Our Opinion: Doctor shopping not confined to Iowa

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy Examiners reported recently that dozens of Iowans who are addicted to prescription drugs are using a practice known as "doctor shopping" to obtain illegal quantities of painkillers or other prescription drugs.

Here's how it works: the addict, after exhausting all refills with one physician and pharmacy sees another doctor for the same ailment and gets the medicine from another pharmacy. The cycle gets repeated until someone finds out.

An informal survey conducted of less than one third of Iowa's pharmacies found 85 patients in 32 cities used multiple prescribers and pharmacies to obtain large amounts of drugs. Another 153 patients exhibited some characteristics of shopping for drugs by using public assistance or insurance to pay for some of the medications, but cash for others.

The extremes revealed in survey were a a northwest Iowa woman using 10 pharmacies and 24 prescribers to buy a half-gallon of liquid codeine cough syrup in a month and a west central Iowa woman using five pharmacies to buy more than 1,200 tablets of the painkiller oxycodone.

The pharmacy examiners released this information to lobby for an an electronic database that would help identify people who go to multiple doctors or pharmacies to stockpile prescription drugs. Such registries are used in 22 other states, and a bill creating one passed the House last session but failed in the Senate.

The reason the measure failed last year were privacy concerns. Marty Ryan, lobbyist for the ACLU of Iowa, formerly the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, commented about the measure, "I don't think it's necessary at all. If they need to put two million people in a database to catch 20 people, that doesn't seem to justify what they want to do."

Privacy concerns notwithstanding -- and these concerns are legitimate -- this problem, as well as the over the counter meth precursors will need to be dealt with at the federal level to be truly effective. Iowa passed the toughest meth over the counter meth precursors bill last year, and now the federal government is considering a national measure that would take priority over Iowa's law.

We feel our legislators should wait for the inevitable federal legislation before asking the rest of us to give up even more of our privacy.