New Bill Will Bring Expanded Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to Pennsylvania

With more than 4000 annual treatment admissions for prescription opiate addiction alone and many more Pennsylvanian residents in the grip of prescription drug abuse who never receive help, the issue of how easy it is to develop a dependency on regularly prescribed medications is one that needs to be urgently tackled(1). We are now a step closer to this thanks to the signing of a new law that will allow physicians in Pennsylvania to access a database of controlled substances so they can see in more detail the prescriptions written for patients and those that have been filled. While a prescription drug monitoring program already exists for level II controlled substances, this new law will make data available on substances up to level V. It is hoped that this new bill will help to reduce the number of overdose related deaths in the state, which currently stands at 15 per 100,000 people and is above the national average(2). With fewer unnecessary prescriptions for addictive prescription drugs issued, this will also reduce the likelihood that they will fall into the hands of young people, with 6% of 12 to 17 year olds in Pennsylvania currently taking prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons(3).

Highlights of SB 1180

Senate Bill 1180, which was signed by Governor Tom Corbett on October 27 2014, allows the creation of the Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions Program, a database that will operate across Pennsylvania Department of Health once the Bill comes in on June 30 2015 and is expected to run for a seven year period(4). Among the drugs that will be included in the new system are prescription opiates such as codeine and hydrocodone, benzodiazepines like Xanax and anabolic steroids, all of which are abused increasingly often. The new database will serve as a useful tool for physicians to identify patients who are “doctor shopping” – patients that move from one physician to another to get more medication when they are not in genuine need of the drugs – and who have addictions.

With the Bill in force, physicians will need to check the database on the first occasion they prescribe a patient a controlled substance or if they have concerns relating to drug abuse or drug diversion for any patients already receiving a prescription. With this information physicians then need to record in a patient’s medical notes in instances where a prescription is inappropriate. If searching the database shows a patient is requesting additional prescriptions suggestive of drug abuse, this allows the doctor to offer treatment, enabling earlier initiation of an intervention that can help the patient take control of their habit before it causes serious harm. Meanwhile, dispensers will need to update the database within 3 days of dispensing a controlled drug, though they can also refer to the database for any patients they are dispensing to if they have suspicions about the legitimacy of their prescriptions. In the case of dispensers, when a problem with a prescription is flagged up, they then have a duty to inform the Attorney General, who will review the case and decide whether there are grounds for prosecution.

By identifying those suffering from substance abuse disorders and taking action against those using fraudulent prescriptions, besides cutting the ill-health and overdoses linked to prescription drug misuse, it is hoped this will achieve cost savings for the state, potentially enhancing productivity at work, lowering insurance premiums and overall reducing law enforcement costs(5).


1. “Pennsylvania drug control update,” Center of National Drug Control Policy, accessed November 10 2014

2. “Prescription drug overdose prevention statement report: Pennsylvania 2013”, CDC, accessed November 10 2014

3. “Pennsylvania adolescent substance abuse facts,” Office of Adolescent Health, accessed November 10 2014

4. “Prescription drug database soon a reality for PA physicians,” Pennsylvania Medical Society, accessed November 10 2014

5. “Prescription drug monitoring program,” Pennsylvania State Senate, accessed November 10 2014

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Update, 27th Feb, 2015: The prescription Monitoring Program has hit a financial roadblock.