CURES Funding Bill Passes California State Senate with Help from Malibu Beach Recovery Center Alumni
On May 29, 2013 two-thirds of the California State Senate voted to resurrect CURES, the State’s nearly moribund online real-time narcotics database. The victory was due in some small part to the efforts of four Malibu Beach Recovery Center alumni: Krissie B, Edward S, Jenna W, and Ronni G.
CURES (the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) contains detailed information from pharmacies on the prescriptions they fill, including the names of patients and their doctors. The database has existed in California in various forms since 1939 and was once a model for other states.
Ten years ago, technology entrepreneur Bob Pack discovered the hard way that due to budget cuts CURES had become technologically inadequate and critically underfunded. His two young children were killed walking down a quiet street in Danville when Jimena Barreto lost control of her Mercedes, driving under the influence of alcohol and prescription painkillers.
Barreto had been doctor-shopping and filled numerous prescriptions for the same medications, each prescription written by a different physician at the same hospital. If CURES had been up and running at the time Pack opined, at least one of those doctors might have blown the whistle. Pack brought the demise of CURES to the attention of State Senator Mark Desaulnier (D-Concord). As California was broke, Desaulnier authored SB 1071 which sought to resurrect CURES by putting a small tax on Big Pharma. The bill called for each of the pharmaceutical companies which manufactures scheduled narcotics to pay twenty five cents each time a prescription for their pills was filled in California.
On May 5, 2010 Krissie and I flew to Sacramento to lobby for passage of the CURES bill (alumna Laurie Kelsoe, although not a prescription drug addict, also came to lend support). At a press conference before the vote, April Rovero, John Ronda and other parents whose children had died from prescription drug overdoses – mostly oxycontin and oxycodone — spoke about their tragedies and urged passage of the bill. Krissie eloquently described having barely survived her addiction to pain pills, all prescribed by the same Workers’ Comp doctor. But the Big Pharma lobbyist did whatever powerful lobbyists do, and Senate Bill 1071 failed to get out of the Senate Health Committee by one vote.
During the visit to Sacramento we visited not only Senator DeSaulnier, but Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills). We told him about the prescription drug epidemic sweeping California and his own district. He committed to help.
Several months later Senator Desaulnier came to Malibu Beach Recovery Center for lunch and an informal meeting with our staff, a group of industry insiders, and LA Times staff reporter Lisa Girion. He said he was determined to get the database modernized and funded. Time passed. More and more states established Prescription Monitoring Systems while CURES became increasingly non functional. By 2012 the whole database was being run by a single Department of Justice employee on a budget of just $400,000.
Then, on November 11, 2012, after almost two years of research by Lisa, her fellow reporter Scott Glover, and photojournalist Liz Baylen, The Los Angeles Times began publishing their seminal series called “Dying for Relief.” Each successive article demonstrated the almost encyclopedic knowledge the three reporters had acquired about every aspect of California’s prescription drug epidemic. Their investigation examined 3,733 prescription-drug-related fatalities in Southern California from 2006 through 2011. Nearly half, they found, involved at least one drug that had been prescribed to the decedent by a physician. 71 physicians, they reported, prescribed medications to three or more patients who died of drug-related causes.
The fourth article in the series, published December 30, 2012, took the State’s Attorney-General to task. It was headlined: “Kamala Harris has a powerful tool for identifying reckless doctors, but she doesn’t use it.” On January 11, 2012 the Attorney General responded by calling on Governor Jerry Brown to restore CURES. This gave impetus for a new CURES funding bill. On February 22, 2013 Senator DeSaulnier introduced SB 809, this time with powerful co-sponsors including Attorney General Harris, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, State Senator Fran Pavley (who represents our Malibu facility), State Senator Ted Lieu (who represents our Brentwood facility), and true to his promise, Assemblyman Blumenfield.
Assemblyman Blumenfield told us quietly he had decided to take a two-track approach. His goal, along with getting SB 809 passed, was to earmark money for CURES in the State budget. In March Krissie and I returned to Sacramento, this time accompanied by alumni Jenna Wilemon and Edward Shut(whose journey off prescription drugs had been documented in the Times series by photojournalist Liz Baylen). We testified before Assembyman Blumenfield’s Budget Committee. Krissie, Jenna and Edward each told their stories and impressed on members that they were alive due to an intervention – by a judge, parents or a substance abuse counselor. In each case a prescription drug monitoring system like CURES might have red flagged earlier that they had become addicts.
While in Sacramento, we also met with Senator Desaulnier who told us he feared the CURES bill would fail again because it needed a 2/3 vote to pass. He asked the alumni to lobby their representatives to co-sponsor the bill. Back in LA, Alumni co-coordinator Ronni Grakal began calling key legislators and arranging for alumni to meet with field deputies. Before each Senate Committee vote, she urged Malibu Beach Recovery Center alumni and staff to call their representatives and urge a yes vote for CURES.
Just before SB 809 bill came to the Senate floor, Assemblyman Blumenfield succeeded in his goal — $4m was earmarked in the California State budget to modernize the CURES database.
That proved auspicious because on May 28, 2013 CURES came to the State Senate floor. Every State Senator lobbied by the alumni voted yes, but Big Pharma’s lobbying was too powerful to overcome. The bill failed by four votes. Overnight Senator Desaulnier had to redraft SB 809 and remove the quarter of a cent tax on Big Pharma prescriptions The next day the watered down version of SB 809 passed the State Senate.
“It is a victory,” emailed Bob Pack, “and CURES will now keep going. A lot of people put their hearts into this work. Please let [your alumni] know how thankful we are for their … help.”
Photos (top to bottom – all but all photos except interview with Senator Desaulnier and Bob Pack, Krissie testifying in 2010 and Senator Desaulnier lunch in Malibu by pj Letofsky)
Edward, Krissie and Jenna visit Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield in his Sacramento Office.
Senator Mark DeSaulnier Visit to Malibu Beach Recovery Center
Edward, Jenna and Assemblyman Blumenfield
Malibu Beach Recovery Center alumni co-coordinator Ronni