Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill into law last week creating a program to monitor prescription drug use in the state of Maryland. “Public safety is among our most solemn obligations as public servants, and preventing the abuse of prescription drugs – the fastest growing drug problem in Maryland – is a big part of our strategy to protect Maryland families,” said Gov. O’Malley in a statement.

The program, administered by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), will target addictive prescription drugs and electronically link them through the medical and pharmaceutical communities according to the DHMH. DHMH says that through this system, officials will be able to pinpoint patients who doctor shop and those doctors and pharmacies that have become “pill mills.” Officials say they will use this information to prosecute those abusing the system.

It will also have other benefits to the state as well. Tom Cargiulo, director of DHMH Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration is happy about the initiative as he says it will not only punish people for committing crimes, but it will identify other’s who need substance abuse treatment.

“The really exciting piece of this is we can really start to have better integration with primary care to be able to get individuals identified early in the progression of their addiction and early in the progression of their disease to get them preferable treatment,” Cargiulo said at a roundtable discussion.

The need for this new law is evident in facts provided by DHMH. Between 2007 and 2010, treatment admission related to the abuse of prescription opiates, which accounted for 55 percent of all intoxication deaths in 2010, increased 106 percent and poison control calls related to oxycodone increased 250 percent.

“A substantial number of individuals in the state of Maryland die from drug abuse every year,” said Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s chief medical examiner, at the roundtable discussion. “In fact we see more people dying from drug abuse each year than we do from homicides and motor vehicle collisions. Therefore it’s one of those things that we really need to be paying attention to.”

An Advisory Board on Prescription Drug Monitoring will be formed to create, design and implement the program according the DHMH. There will be 17 members of the board including physicians, a nurse, a law enforcement official and two Maryland residents. The first report of the advisory board is due to the governor by Dec. 1, 2012.

Prescription monitoring data will be confidential and privileged and protected from use in civil litigation. This program will go into effect on Oct. 1.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO