"They have figured out that unlike trafficking of guns or illegal drugs ... trafficking of prescription drugs is high-profit, low-risk," Harris said.
Harris is proposing to increase fees for providers and drug manufacturers to pay the program's ongoing costs. Providers would pay a 1.2 percent premium on their annual licensing fees, ranging from $2 for pharmacists and registered nurse practitioners to $9 for physicians and $10 for podiatrists.
Provider groups generally support funding and upgrading the state tracking system, although the California Medical Association prefers the money come from general taxes.
Medical association spokeswoman Molly Weedn and California Pharmacists Association chief executive Jon Roth also are concerned by proposals seeking to divert the program from its original purpose, which was trying to prevent patients from doctor-shopping to obtain prescription drugs.
Policing of providers should be done by the state's licensing boards, not the state Department of Justice, Roth said.
"We would have two separate enforcement agencies working in parallel" under Harris' proposal, he said.
Harris has general support from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, even before the funding bill is formally introduced by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, in coming weeks.
Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Sherman Oaks, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, favors upgrading the tracking program, but with caution. It might be difficult to find the money, he said, and lawmakers want to make sure the upgraded computer system will not turn into "a technological boondoggle."
He cited a 2011 study by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that found just 3 percent of California's 185,000 prescription providers were using the tracking system to make sure their patients were not filling multiple prescriptions.
"It could save lives and it could save money," Blumenfield said. However, "we don't want to initiate a system that's going to become some sort of a witch hunt against doctors or pharmacists or providers. Some sort of system that spits out the raw data is dangerous, but having some analysis can be helpful."
That's the goal in assigning a dozen special agents to track down leads generated by the computerized system, Harris said.
"This is not a 'gotcha' program," she said. But with an upgraded system backed by special agents, "not only would it flag things, but we could do something about it."