Pharmacists ask state for ‘flexibility’ on pain pill program deadline

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Pharmacists are asking Texas lawmakers for an extension on the deadline to implement the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. The program helps medication prescribers and pharmacists track patients’ controlled substance history.

Those pharmacists and prescribers will be required to integrate into the Prescription Monitoring Program by Sept. 1, 2019. But industry representatives told lawmakers they do not think they will be ready.

“Build in some flexibility into the timeline to allow for more system integration, I think there would be benefit in that,” Walgreens senior manager of professional affairs Thompson George requested to the legislators in a hearing of the Interim Joint Committee on Prescribing & Dispensing Controlled Substances.

The program’s deadline has received some pushback, according to state Board of Pharmacy executive director, Allison Benz.

“People do not think that the systems will be ready to handle that,” she said after the hearing. “We are asking for the legislature to fund some enhancements to the program that would allow for integration into the system which would allow it to automatically collect the data.”

“We’re continuing to register users, getting people to sign on to get their accounts so they’re ready to access the program when they have to in Sept. 2019,” Benz said.

While the program aims to combat the opioid epidemic, some patients who take high-risk medication worry they could feel the effects of unintended consequences of tightening restrictions on pain pills.

“I worry because if some other patient who is not me does abuse the medication that reflects badly on the entire profession of pain management and that affects me,” a woman named Kristin, who asked that her last name not be used in this report, told lawmakers. “The government looks at the whole population and they don’t look at the individuals.”

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, echoed some of those concerns.

“I think we always have to be cognizant of the fact that it is the physicians and the healthcare providers who have gotten the training to determine what is medically appropriate in an individual patient’s situation,” Howard said. “We need to be very, very cautious about what we do to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.”

“We always have to be aware of unintended consequences and make sure that we are very clear about what we are doing here so that we don’t penalize people intentionally,” Howard stated during Wednesday’s hearing.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a physician, said she was leery to create restrictions that “practitioners can’t practice with.”

“What we want to be very sure we do is give people the flexibility they need to comply with the regulations but be sure that the technology is actually up to speed and running,” the Lakeway Republican said. “I think we are united to the extent that we want to be sure that we stop the opioid epidemic, but ‘How is the best way to do that and what is the best way to proceed?’ That’s where the negotiations will come in,” Dr. Buckingham said.

The hearing in Austin coincided with a United States Senate vote to tackle the opioid crisis. New legislation from Washington, passed by the Senate Wednesday afternoon after House approval last week, would fund research to find less addictive drugs for pain management and expand access to treatment for Medicaid patients with substance use disorders. 

The bipartisan vote was 98-1, with only Utah Republican Mike Lee voting against it, and Texas Republican Ted Cruz not participating. Cruz was in Wichita Falls, Texas, on Wednesday, at a campaign rally with Donald Trump, Jr. The national legislation heads to the President’s desk for a signature.

To watch the full hearing, click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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