ABucks County Republican says Pennsylvania has an "epidemic" of prescription drug abuse, and medical experts tend to agree.

It's happening all over the country, in fact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths have soared in the past decade, mainly because of prescription painkillers.

But we're wary of the bill Rep. Gene DiGirolamo has introduced to curb the problem.

He's calling for a controlled substance database to help physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement officers identify pill-seekers who might be "doctor shopping."

Whenever a patient has a prescription filled, the pharmacist would be required to enter his or her name, the drug being dispensed and the doctor's information.

This is almost exactly what is done now under Pennsylvania's drug act, commonly referred to as "Act 64."

That law authorizes the attorney general to gather information on the dispensation of Schedule II controlled substances by all pharmacies in the state. It's compiled in a database accessible only by law enforcement agencies.

Our problem is that DiGirolamo's bill would expose a patient's personal information to many more eyes -- doctors, pharmacists and employees of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

If abuse is suspected, a patient could be referred to counseling or the information could be passed on to law enforcement.


We understand the reasoning here. A doctor doesn't want to write a prescription if a patient just received one a week ago from a different doctor, and pharmacists don't want to fill it if a patient just got one filled down the street.

But why should all of us be required to share information about our health absent any evidence of abuse?

DiGirolamo's bill includes language intended to protect patient privacy, but no safeguards are foolproof. How can anyone be certain his or her personal information is safe from prying eyes or hackers?

It's not as if health care workers have no options if they suspect a patient is doctor shopping. Currently, they can report suspected cases to the attorney general's office, which can investigate using the existing database.

If that's not good enough, lawmakers might want to consider giving health care workers some kind of access to the current database.

That's preferable to creating another one and doubling patients' risk their information might be compromised.

And frankly we're just more comfortable with these types of records being under the strict control of law enforcement.