CA State Senate Steinberg Supports Revival of CURES Database
Several months ago, Joan mentioned a series of articles in the L.A. Times on prescription drug abuse. Article number 4 (or part 4), which appeared in December, is again about CURES, the prescription drug database that both Joan and I have posted about.
This article mentions Kamala Harris, CA Attorney General. After a previous article cast the CA Medical Board in a critical light for not taking action against dirty doctors, article four is not sympathetic to Harris. (If you follow the link in the second sentence in the first paragraph, all articles are available at links across the top of the L.A. Times page.)
As you recall, CURES is a way for pharmacists and doctors to log prescriptions into a database and check on how often patients have gotten a medication. Harris won’t give the media or the public access to CURES. The paper has titled the article An Unused Tool, with the subtitle saying “Kamala Harris has a powerful tool for identifying reckless doctors but she doesn’t use it.”
The paper obtained a list of doctors who prescribe narcotic painkillers from a private firm that purchases certain information to sell to drug companies when marketing their products to them, and found that six of the top ten doctors on the list were “eventually convicted of drug dealing or similar crimes or were sanctioned by medical regulators.” One was a cocaine addict, and some had been prescribing tons of narcotics for years before authorities caught up with them. At least 20 people died as a result.
The implication is obvious. If Harris had cross-referenced this list with CURES, she and her staff would have learned the same thing. And she could continue to use CURES, and expand its usefulness. Not only would she not give an interview, “she has not proposed using CURES to detect signs of excessive prescribing.” Her chief of staff lists financial constraints as a problem and says the Department of Justice lacks resources to track leads, and the article traces the problem back to Governor Brown.
Harris got the message. Following publication of the Times article, she called on Governor Jerry Brown to restore funding to CURES. Then as an editorial in the San Francisco Examiner points out: “…. Harris diverted money from federal grants and other agencies to keep it [the CURES database] functioning through July. According to The Associated Press. Harris estimated the cost to upgrade the system at $3.8 million; $1.6 million would be needed.” Which is just putting it on life support, the paper notes.
She’s also requested money to enforce that pharmacists and doctors report information in CURES as they should be doing, and she wants to see providers and drug manufacturers pay an added sum in licensing fees to help with costs for CURES. (There’s opposition from the California Medical Association, which has suggested that it come from the General Fund.)
Perhaps as important, once Harris stepped up to the plate she won the support of California’s influential State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg is expected to rally votes for a new CURES bill introduced last week by long-term CURES supporter Senator Mark DeSaulnier.
Joan said, “Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for drawing state attention to the sad plight of California’s online real-time prescription drug data base which can help curb doctor shopping-pharmacy hopping addicts. My friend Bob Blumenfield, who is chairman of the Assembly Budget Çommittee, says he will co-sponsor the DeSaulnier bill. With support from Steinberg, DeSaulnier and Blumenfield, I am now confident that California will have one of the most effective online databases in the country.”
The bill would also add teeth to oversight requirements to try and deter the rampant overprescribing. You can read more information about the bill here.
I’m wondering why there isn’t a greater public outcry to finally make the CURES database the best tool possible once and for all. There have been so many stories associated with this problem. After all, CURES is in California, where citizens get things get done. Don’t they?
Photos (top to bottom): Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senator Mark DeSaulnier at a lunch hosted for him by Malibu Beach Recovery Center, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield.