Congress Debates National Rx Monitoring System

FEBRUARY 01, 2005
Ken Rankin

States will receive fresh federal funding to fight prescription drug abuse through electronic databases that monitor drug prescribing and dispensing activity, if Congress approves a proposed new "National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act."

The bill, which is being proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Senators Jeff Sessions (R, Ala) and Edward Kennedy (D, Mass), aims to fight prescription drug diversion and abuse throughout the country.

The nation's "law enforcement officials want to stop the flow of prescription drugs to the streets," and a national electronic monitoring program will be a "valuable resource" to help them, Kennedy said in endorsing the bill.

Although 19 states currently operate their own electronic Rx monitoring systems, officials concede that these programs vary widely in terms of the methods used to collect and store data. States also impose inconsistent rules governing the use of prescribing and dispensing information—an issue that worries privacy advocates.

A national system funded by the federal government "must include strong safeguards for medical privacy, and must make certain that the database cannot be used to bring improper pressure on physicians to avoid prescribing essential medication for patients in need," Kennedy said.

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.