Will requiring a photo ID to fill prescriptions help cure opiate addiction?


By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

ADDICTION: An Ohio bill would require photo IDs from anyone picking up a prescription that contains opiates.

When criminals committ crimes, the government solution is usually easiest for bureaucrats: Punish everyone, including the innocent.

That’s what many states have done with methamphetamines and now a bill in the Ohio Senate would do the same thing for prescription drug abuse.

Ohio consumers already have to present a photo ID to obtain an over-the-counter allergy medicine. Now they might be required to present one to get prescription drugs.

The claim is that such a requirement would help cure the opiate addiction problem in the state.

According to various reports, opiate addiction affects around 200,000 Ohioans. A fact sheet from Gov. John Kasich’s office explains that “addiction to prescription pain medications and their chemical lookalike, heroin, is on the rise” with nearly 45 percent of drug overdoses attributable to prescription drugs.

Obviously, the government has to do something.

Enter Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, with Senate Bill 271.

Her bill would require pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, laboratories and any “licensed terminal distributors” to verify and record the government-issued photo ID data for all purchasers of controlled substances or tramadol. They would have to keep the information for three years and allow it to be inspected by law enforcement or authorized representatives of the State Board of Pharmacy.

Tramadol is listed separately because it is not a yet designated as a controlled substance under Ohio or federal law.

So how would a photo ID stop opiate abuse?

“Photo ID at the point of sale would have given me, and hundreds of investigators like me, starting points in investigations filled with hundreds of heretofore unknown subjects,” Cincinnati detective William Rogers, with the Drug Abuse Reduction Task Force, said at the April commiteee hearing on the bill.

To fight criticism of the ID requirement, detective Dennis Luken of the Warren County Drug Task Force noted that customers are already required to present one when purchasing alcohol, tobacco, or cashing a check.

“Failure to require photo identification when purchasing controlled substances defies all the principals of common sense,” he told the committee.

But what if the prescription is picked up by a family member? What if, as committee Democrats questioned, the purchaser doesn’t have an ID?

Luken said the bill doesn’t require the customer’s name to match the prescription and admitted the state would need to develop a way for residents without drivers licenses to pick up their prescriptions.

“There’s going to have to be a way to override the system,” he said.

So, you can pick up someone else’s prescription and the system can be overridden if you claim you don’t have an ID. Isn’t that the most likely way for abusers to actually get the drugs they seek? And wouldn’t that result in additional burdens for dispensers and legitimate customers without actually getting to the abusers?

What if you get your prescriptions through the mail?

What if you pick up multiple prescriptions, like for parents, children and yourself? Will you be targeted as a potential abuser and required to account for your purchases to some law enforcement or government official?

Ohio already does this for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as part of the state’s effort to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine.

When they first started tracking allergy and cold medicine purchases, they did so with a paper-based system. Law enforcement officials claimed that was inefficient for investigatory purposes.

So the state contracted with National Precursor Log Exchange, a public-private partnership that electronically tracks the purchases free of charge for law enforcement and state governments. If a purchaser has exceeded a specified limit, the system produces a “stop-sale alert” and the retailer is prohibited from selling the medicine. The data in the system is reviewed by law enforcement who can then create watch lists if suspicious buying patterns are noticed.

Since Ohio signed up with NPLEx in June 2013, more than 22,534 purchases have been blocked and at least 3,328 “watches” have been established, according to a memo from the Legislative Services Commission.

As Virginia Watchdog reported, some states say the NPLEx system does little to actually stop meth production. Criminals always find a workaround and a system that tells you how much allergy medicine someone purchases doesn’t tell you what that individual is doing with it. Not every person who gets a pill is committing a crime.

Will NPLEx be used to track prescription meds as well?

S.B. 271 doesn’t say and Jones was unavailable, but a staff person in her office pointed out the bill “allows pharmacies the flexibility to collect the required data as they see fit.”

But without an electronic, real-time system, how would law enforcement know if drugs were being abused?

The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy already has a prescription tracking system (OARRS) that doctors and pharmacists use to monitor prescriptions. But the OARRS system is for patient care, Jesse Wimberly, a spokesman for the board, explained.

Law enforcement officials have access to the OARRS database, Wimberly said, but only when they have an active investigation.

“The system is not intended to be used to track who picks up the prescriptions,” he added.

If criminals and drug abusers know their ID is going to be recorded when they pick up their drugs, won’t they just find a workaround for that as well? Wouldn’t a drug ring sophisticated enough to produce fake prescriptions also be sophisticated enough to produce a fake ID?

Will requiring everyone to present an ID when they get their pain medicines really help cure the opiate addiction problem?

Perhaps the logic is that “if it saves just one life,” the sacrificing of other liberties is worth it.