Three New Alabama Laws Aim to Crack Down on 'Doctor Shopping' and Prescription Drug Abuse

Topics: Prescription drug abuse and Prescription monitoring program

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has signed into law three bills aimed to reverse the state’s growing prescription drug abuse rate. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified Alabama among the top 20 states in number of drug overdose deaths. In response to that report and other indicators, laws addressing the state’s prescription monitoring program (PMP), pain management clinics, and the problem of “doctor shopping” will be implemented. Governor Bentley held a formal signing ceremony on August 1, 2013, to authorize the bills. “As a physician, and as a governor, I understand the importance of fighting prescription drug abuse. These bills are designed to help us address this problem while also protecting the rights of patients,” stated Bentley.

Included in the package of bills, the prescription drug monitoring program bill (HB 150) clarifies language authorizing the Board of Medical Examiners to regulate the physician’s use of the state’s PMP. Physicians can now allow staff members to access the database on their behalf. The bill also allows the Medicaid Agency to access the database to check the controlled substance prescription medication history of patients enrolled in Medicaid. The pain management bill (HB 151, PDF) strengthens regulation of pain management clinics where drugs are prescribed for chronic, nonmalignant pain. Under the new law, pain management clinics must be registered with the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, and must have a medical director who is a physician licensed in Alabama. The law also allows the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners to issue subpoenas while investigating clinics. The “doctor shopping bill” (HB 152, PDF) makes it a Class A misdemeanor to lie to doctors about similar prescriptions to get more drugs. Convictions are punishable with up to a year in jail; after four convictions, the offense becomes a Class C felony, which is punishable by a sentence of up to 10 years.