States linking prescription databases, fight abuse

Emery P. Dalesio
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Starting next year, dozens of states will begin knitting together databases to watch prescription drug abuse, from powerful painkillers to diet pills.

With federal money and prodding, states are being asked to sign onto an agreement allowing police, pharmacies and physicians to check suspicious prescription pill patterns from Nevada to North Carolina.

Civil liberties and privacy advocates have objected to the state databases, which would be linked with technology and standards developed by the Justice and Homeland Security departments.

Thirty-four states operate databases to fight a drug problem authorities say is growing more deadly than heroin.

“I’ve got people that are kin to me that’s addicted and I see firsthand what it does,” said Tracy Carter, sheriff in Lee County, N.C.. about 30 miles southwest of Raleigh. “The thing that’s so darn frustrating is our young people don’t think it’s that big of a deal. ‘It’s a pill. It won’t hurt me. The doctor prescribed it.’ But it’s worse than crack cocaine.”

North Carolina had 826 unintentional deaths due to controlled substances last year, said Bill Bronson, the state health official in charge of the database. In comparison, there were 482 homicides statewide.

Nationally, there were 27,658 overdose deaths from prescription medication in 2007 – more than heroin and cocaine combined, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in July. The threat is increasing as the most addictive pain relievers including OxyContin, which can produce a euphoric feeling, become more common, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.

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