With passage by the Rhode Island General Assembly, legislation filed at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin that gives specific public safety agencies restricted access to the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to properly investigate prescription drug diversion and illegal "pill mills" heads to the Governor's desk for signature.
The legislation (H5469/S0656), sponsored by Representative Joseph McNamara (D., District 19 – Cranston, Warwick) and Senator William Conley (D., District 18 – East Providence, Pawtucket), allows a certified prescription drug diversion investigator of specific public safety agencies restricted access to the PDMP database. Those who would gain access to information from the Department of Health (DOH) are limited to investigators of the Food & Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Unit only. State and local law enforcement would still need to seek a warrant for this information.
The legislation requires that each qualified public safety agency submit to the DOH quarterly reports of the data received by all certified public safety prescription drug diversion investigators, which must include a brief description of each case initiated and closed during that quarter and the disposition of the investigation, among other information.
"We know that drug diversion exists and is contributing to the opioid crisis the State continues to endure. Giving restricted access to the database will allow appropriate public safety agencies to more effectively investigate criminal prescription drug prescribing and illegal prescription drug diversion, and, ultimately help save lives," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.
"I commend the sponsors of this important legislation, as well as Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio, for recognizing this as a potential lifesaving tool to help those who struggle with opioid addiction. In the past two years, the House and Senate have passed meaningful measures to address the opiate crisis, especially increasing resources to the many Rhode Islanders who struggle with substance abuse. Today, they have taken another prudent step to address one of the underlying causes of the crisis – drug diversion and illegal prescribing."
He went on to add, "We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that much of the opioid crisis has been borne out of the diversion of prescription drugs for illicit purposes. Even the Department of Health plainly states that Rhode Island's overdose crisis began with prescription drugs. Overprescribing and diversion by the medical community helped to create the problem; now it needs to be part of the solution."
Thirty states, including neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, have similar laws giving public safety agencies the access to the PDMP for criminal investigations without the use of a search warrant.
Moreover, the PDMP Center of Excellence at Brandeis University cites the standard this legislation seeks as a best practice for public safety in curbing illicit narcotics activities, specifically the illegal diversion of prescription drugs.