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‘Doctor Shopping’ Database Concerns Privacy Advocates

By Susy Solis, CBS 11 News
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The abuse of prescription drugs has skyrocketed across the nation, and especially in Texas where, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, accidental overdoses from 1999 to 2007 increased 150%.

Now the Texas Legislature is hoping to take action to curb prescription drug abuse.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has kept tabs on who is prescribing, filling and buying controlled substances, such as hydrocodone and Xanax, two of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, for years. Physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement officials can register for access to the information. So far only, there are about 200 registered users of the database, known as Prescription Access Texas, or PAT. Of the 200, 22 are in Dallas/ Fort Worth area, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The PAT database is set to go online in the summer of 2012, but in next year’s legislative session, lawmakers will consider requiring doctors and pharmacists to check the database before writing or filling prescriptions of controlled substances, something that currently is voluntary,  The purpose, lawmakers say, is to “take a proactive approach to prevention, assist with criminal investigation and provide historical reporting and identify trends,” according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Former addicts, like Maryrose Zielan, a Dallas radio personality, says something like that may have saved her life.

“I would shop, I had 3 different doctors I was going to, I had to make notes which pharmacy,” Zielan said.

Zielan first mingled with prescription drugs to treat migraines but a bulging disk in her back and caring for her sick mother took her addiction to another level. At one point after back surgery, Zielan says she was taking up to 20 pills a day to manage her pain.

In the next legislative session, lawmakers will consider legislation that would require doctors and pharmacists to check the database before filling and prescribing controlled substances.

“It’s possible that an patient can claim that it’s an invasion of their privacy under the constitution 4th amendment,” said Peter Vogel, a privacy attorney for Gardere.

The other concern for privacy advocates is how law enforcement will use the data.
“Are they then going to have a drug raid on that person’s home? Is the police going to come and seize the drugs? It’s not real clear what would happen with all that,” said Vogel.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says the data will be used to help identify fraud, all in an effort to curb prescription drug abuse.

Zielan said, if the database can save one life, it’s worth it.

“This year on April 24th, I’ll be sober for 7 years and I’ve seen Christ work in my life. I can’t believe I’m alive,” she said.
The database is scheduled to be rolled out online this summer.

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