CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Gov. John Lynch signed a bill establishing a prescription drug monitoring system Tuesday, ending a six-year push by health advocates and making New Hampshire the 49th state to use a database to keep track of commonly abused drugs.
Prescription drug monitoring programs seek to reduce the abuse of prescription drugs by allowing physicians to check whether a patient seeking a prescription has been shopping around for the same medication elsewhere. All other states except Missouri have such databases or have authorized them, but New Hampshire lawmakers repeatedly rejected the idea before passing a bill this spring. Supporters said the severity of the problem the bill addresses and the growing coalition they assembled made the difference.
"The treatment community, prevention, law enforcement, the medical community — the reason they all came together is because it is a critically important piece of legislation," said Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes. "We have a significant problem with the misuse, abuse and diversion of prescription medication. This is going to be an important tool, not only for public health — it's going to allow physicians to better treat their patients — but from our end, for public safety."
In New Hampshire, drug-related deaths — most involving prescriptions — have outnumbered traffic fatalities in four of the last five years. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of prescription drug pills seized by police officers working for the state's drug task force increased by nearly 500 percent. And New Hampshire teenagers abuse prescription drugs at a higher rate than the national average, said Attorney General Michael Delaney.
Opponents of the database have cited privacy concerns and pointed to the state's "Live Free or Die" motto to argue against government involvement in medical transactions. Under the bill signed Tuesday, information collected under the program would be deleted after six months, unless there was a suspicion of abuse, and police would need a court order to use the system.
Rep. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, said some of his peers questioned how a "privacy guy" like him could end up co-sponsoring the bill. But he said he believes government has a role in protecting people from each other.
"The most compelling testimony in our committee was from practitioners who said they had often been threatened with physical violence if they didn't produce prescriptions for controlled narcotics," he said. "That to me became an OK reason to support this prescription monitoring bill, and I'm glad it's in place."