- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

RICHMOND A prescription-monitoring system that could help curb OxyContin abuse in Virginia likely will face an uphill battle in the next General Assembly as a result of the recession and the September 11 terrorist attacks, a state official said.
"The reality is that people are more interested in security, terrorism, being safe in their building and the budget," Deputy Attorney General Bradley C. Cavedo said Tuesday at a meeting of the Attorney General's Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse.
Mr. Cavedo, who acts as a liaison with legislators, said a proposed bill pushing for the new electronic system probably will be held over until the 2003 session. The task force was supposed to meet for the last time Tuesday but will continue for another year as a result.
"I think we need to extend the life of this group to educate legislators," Mr. Cavedo said.
The proposed electronic-monitoring system would require pharmacists to enter prescription information for addictive drugs into a computer, which would then be stored in a central database.
The collection of data would help investigators track people suspected of faking ailments to obtain the painkiller from different doctors.
"I think that would be the single most powerful tool we have against this," said task force member Dennis Lee, commonwealth's attorney for Tazewell County.
"People go 'doctor-shopping' to get prescriptions and amass huge amounts of drugs.
"A lot of these drug seekers are very good con men. They know what to say, and they know how to say it," Mr. Lee said.
Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut-based company that makes OxyContin, has said it would support a prescription-monitoring system as one way to keep lawbreakers from abusing its product.
Fifteen states have or are transitioning to similar electronic databases. They include Kentucky, Nevada, Texas and Massachusetts, said Amy Powell, a member of the panel and program director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.
Attorney General Mark L. Earley assembled the task force in April, following reports of widespread abuse of OxyContin in southwest Virginia.
Mr. Cavedo estimated such a program would cost Virginia about $1 million to start up.
"Anything this important you have to get it up front if you can," said Delegate Jackie Stump, Buchanan County Democrat.
Mr. Stump said he would consider initially adopting a monitoring system only in southwest Virginia, as opposed to the entire state, if it would help speed up the process.
Other recommendations to be released next week include increasing the number of drug-treatment centers around the state, increasing the number of officers in the Virginia State Police drug unit, and increasing penalties for first-time dealing.
Oxycodone, the opium-based narcotic that makes OxyContin both an effective painkiller and a devastating drug, has been linked to 67 fatal overdoses in Virginia, according to Dr. William Massello, assistant chief medical examiner in Richmond.
Nationwide, OxyContin has been blamed for more than 100 fatal overdoses since it hit the market in 1996.

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