Pill bottles

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HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania is rolling out a new tool to make it easier for medical professionals, pharmacists and the public to pass along tips about suspicious prescription drug activity.

Pennsylvania’s prescription drug monitoring program already requires doctors and pharmacists to use the database. But it did not previously provide an easy means to pass along any suspicions they might have to law enforcement.

That’s changing under the plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Medical professionals will be able to pass along tips while they use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and members of the public can do the same by using the internet address  attorneygeneral.gov/rx. 

That activity might include fraudulent, stolen or altered prescriptions, suspicious activity by a doctor or pharmacy, or if an individual appears to be obtaining drugs for any purpose other than for treatment of a legitimate medical condition, Shapiro said.

“The illegal diversion of prescription pain pills from doctors’ offices and pharmacies is contributing to the opioid epidemic across the commonwealth, but diversion activity is hard to identify and even harder to investigate,” Shapiro said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control found that 5,388 people died from opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania last year.

“We cannot allow 15 Pennsylvanians to die each and every day. We’ve got to do more,” Shapiro said.

Wolf said that since the state launched its revamped prescription drug monitoring program in 2016, doctor-shopping – which state officials define as visiting five or more doctors in a three-month period – has been greatly diminished.

The number of people flagged for suspected doctor-shopping tumbled 86 percent in the first year of the drug monitoring program, he said.

“Now PDMP users will have another way to help reduce the misuse of prescription drugs. It’s a new tool in our toolkit for fighting the opioid epidemic,” Wolf said.

Arrests targeting suspected pill mills have spiked 72 percent in the last year, Shapiro said.

In November, Shapiro announced charges against four people who illegally diverted more than 17,000 pills through 264 fake prescriptions in Butler, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

“There is more out there, we can do better,” he said. “Too many doctors, nurses and medical professionals try to illegally profit off addiction.”

Doctors are required to check the monitoring program database when they prescribe opioids and pharmacists are supposed to do the same when they fill prescriptions.

The system is searched 1.6 million times a month, Wolf said.

While law enforcement had already been able to check the database, the tip system will help them identify suspicious activity they were unaware of, Shapiro said.

Shapiro said that it’s not uncommon for investigators to contact medical professionals during the course of an investigation and be told: “’I know you’re investigating Person X, but you should look at Person Y or Z.”

The new tip tool will allow those leads to get to the Attorney General’s Office more quickly, he said.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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