State lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish penalties for medical practitioners who don’t comply with a state program requiring them to keep a record of opioid prescriptions.
The bill would add a provision to a law passed in 2013 that mandates all prescribers register and participate in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. The program requires practitioners to report information about transactions for controlled substances dispensed in Connecticut as a way to prevent patients from obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors or pharmacies.
“People will try to game the system to get additional opioids that they can sell, and we’re trying to counteract that,” said state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, who co-sponsored the bill.
Since the legislation went into effect in 2013, many prescribers in the state have not complied with the program. Only 50 percent of prescribers complied in 2017, according to the Department of Consumer of Protection.
“If the legislature felt this program worthy of its time and resources in 2013 and the subsequent years, then we need to equip the program’s governing body with the tools necessary to enact the program and require its use,” state Rep. Craig Fishbein said in testimony for the bill.
Under the proposed bill, prescribers would be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $3,000 for any subsequent offenses.
Local lawmakers, including Mushinsky and Fishbein, testified in support of the bill Tuesday during a public hearing held by the legislature’s general law committee. Mushinksy testified that she has spoken with doctors who admitted noncompliance.
“They know what the law says, but they are very busy and don’t bother checking the database if no one is monitoring them,” she said.
Mushinsky submitted the bill at the request of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, a local non-profit that formed in 2012 to combat the opioid epidemic.
Coalition founders Ken Welch and Jennifer Short also submitted testimony for the bill, along with Wallingford Youth and Social Services Director Craig Turner.
“It is a sad day that we find ourselves legislating the actions of those we trust with our well being, but so be it,” said Welch said, who founded the coalition with his wife, Short, in 2012 after their daughter, Taylor Short, died from a drug overdose. “Let’s have the strength to do the right thing.”
The bill received pushback at the hearing from DCP commissioner Michelle Seagull, who argued in written testimony that DCP “already has the ability to impose fines of up to $1,000...when practitioners or pharmacists do not comply with the law.”
While only 50 percent of drug prescribers in Connecticut complied with the program last year, Seagull said that percentage is an improvement from 2015, when 25 percent of prescribers complied.
“While prescribers are not yet in full compliance, the speed at which they are coming into compliance is rapid, and we don’t believe additional fines will move things more quickly,” she wrote in her testimony.
Seagull added that DCP would have “difficulty doing more enforcing in this area without additional staff.” Staffing levels in the department’s Drug Control Division have “remained relatively flat” since the prescription monitoring program was established, she said.
Several associations representing medical practitioners and hospitals in the state also objected to the bill Tuesday.
The Connecticut Hospital Association testified that the bill “unfairly seeks to punish unintended failures of practitioners who, in good faith, are trying to comply with new and changing laws and technology.”
The hospital association proposed adding language to the bill stating that only doctors who “knowingly and willfully” didn’t comply would be fined.
Mushinsky said Thursday that she doesn’t believe the bill will pass as presently written. She is working with the Coalition on revisions, including adding a “stepped sequence of warnings before applying penalties” to practioners. The new bill would also be rewritten to “emphasize a joint effort” in enforcement by DCP and the state Department of Public Health.