A Minnesota lawmaker whose son became addicted to powerful pain medication before dying from a heroin overdose wants to strengthen the state’s oversight of opioid prescriptions.
Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) will introduce legislation this month that would give state regulators more access to the state’s prescription monitoring program, which was implemented in 2010 to identify doctor shoppers and thieving doctors.
A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation found state privacy laws prevent the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which operates the monitoring program, from sharing crucial prescription evidence with law enforcement and other state regulators during investigations.
“It just has to be managed better than it ever has before because too many people are dying,” said Baker, whose oldest son, Daniel, became addicted to opioids in college and died of a heroin overdose in 2011.
The first-term lawmaker started drafting legislation to improve the monitoring program soon after taking office in 2014.
“It has to evolve with the needs and the actual crisis we’re in now,” Baker said. “It’s too late for our family.”
Baker’s law would allow regulatory boards, like the Board of Medical Practice, to access the monitoring program when investigating doctors or medical professionals suspected of stealing medication.
“We have no access at this point and time,” Board of Medical Practice Executive Director Dr. Ruth Martinez said.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found 268 medical professionals in Minnesota have been suspended for stealing medication since 2010.
An emergency room doctor from Princeton, Minnesota, stole pain pills for two years.
“I would write prescriptions to another party, they would fill the prescriptions and we would split them,” Dr. Luther Philaya said.
Philaya says state regulators never flagged his prescribing habits because nobody looked him up in the monitoring program.
Baker, who will also consider legislation that would give law enforcement more access to the monitoring program in the future, says patient privacy must be protected but that sitting on valuable information does not help address the public health crisis.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have this information at the fingertips,” Baker said.