California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, joined by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier at… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)
The California Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would significantly enhance a prescription-monitoring program aimed at curbing drug abuse and overdose deaths.
The bill passed after sponsors made concessions to overcome pharmaceutical industry opposition. It was the last piece of a broad package of proposals approved by the Senate this week that were introduced in response to a series of Los Angeles Times articles linking doctors to patient overdose deaths.
A Times analysis found that 71 physicians prescribed medications to three or more patients who died of drug-related causes. The finding was part of an analysis of 3,733 prescription-drug-related fatalities in Southern California from 2006 through 2011. Nearly half involved at least one drug that had been prescribed to the decedent by a physician.
The bills approved this week included measures that would require coroners to report prescription-involved deaths to the Medical Board of California and that would give the board greater investigative powers.
The prescription-monitoring bill faced the stiffest headwinds even though it had the support of a coalition of law enforcement groups, health insurance companies, and business, labor and consumer organizations, as well as Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
Under the bill, the monitoring program -- known as CURES -- would receive a steady stream of funding from an increase in licensing fees on pharmacists, physicians and other prescribers. The bill also called for a tax on drug makers to allow the attorney general to hire teams of investigators to crack down on drug-seeking patients and doctors who recklessly prescribe to them.
That provision drew opposition from several pharmaceutical and biotech industry trade groups; they succeeded in defeating the bill earlier this week by four votes.
In a last-ditch bid to keep the bill moving forward, its sponsors removed the drug-maker tax -- sacrificing the enforcement squads. After the tax provision was removed, the pharmaceutical companies and trade groups dropped their opposition.
The bills now move onto the Assembly.