FRANKFORT, Ky. — Unscrupulous doctors who overprescribe painkillers that are being widely abused in Kentucky could be more quickly identified and prosecuted under a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the Prestonsburg Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the changes are crucial in Kentucky, where nearly 1,000 people are dying from drug overdoses each year.
"I can promise you this is a problem that affects every part of the state," Stumbo told fellow lawmakers.
The measure passed the Judiciary Committee 12-0. Three lawmakers opted not to vote.
The measure would require all physicians to tap into the state's prescription monitoring system to determine if patients seeking painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs have recently gotten similar medications from other doctors. Investigators from the attorney general's office also would monitor the prescribing practices of doctors, allowing quick investigations into questionable behavior.
The Kentucky Medical Association opposed the measure, citing the "broad and overarching authority" given to the attorney general to gain access to what members believe should be private medical information.
"That's of grave concern to us," said William Doll, a lobbyist for the KMA.
"We didn't decide we wanted to pick a fight with the House speaker just for giggles," Doll told lawmakers. "We think there are some legitimate, very basic concerns in this bill."
Doll said the KMA also objects to a provision that will require each doctor in the state to pay a fee of up to $50 a year to the attorney general's office to maintain the drug monitoring system. Doll said doctors shouldn't be singled out to pay a fee to deal with a problem that extends to the entire society.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce endorsed the legislation, saying combating prescription drug abuse will make safer, more productive workplaces.
That group's president, Dave Adkisson, said Kentucky's employers see the measure as a means to eliminate "a workplace and occupational safety hazard."
Several public officials urged lawmakers to pass the measure, including Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner who said most physicians have nothing to fear from its provisions.
"The people who need to fear this bill are those who crawl out when a rock is lifted up," he told lawmakers.
The legislation is House Bill 1.