By ERIC EYRE
CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Eleven West Virginia lawmakers have signed on as sponsors of legislation that would direct the state Board of Pharmacy to track reports of drugstores that order a “suspicious” number of highly addictive prescription opioids and other powerful narcotics.
The bill (HB 2735) also requires the pharmacy board to forward the reports to the Attorney General’s Office — a practice the board started in December.
The legislation follows a Gazette-Mail investigation that found the pharmacy board never acted on thousands of reports that flagged pharmacies for ordering unusually large quantities of pain pills and other controlled substances. Prescription drug distributors submit the reports to the pharmacy board.
“We asked the board why the reports were put in a shoebox, and their response was the Legislature hadn’t directed them what to do with the reports,” said Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, the bill’s lead sponsor. “We want to make sure there’s clear direction.”
For years, the pharmacy board didn’t investigate suspicious order reports, board administrators have told the Gazette-Mail. The agency never contacted the drug distributors or pharmacies. And the board didn’t pass the reports along to law enforcement authorities.
Instead, the board stored the reports in two banker’s boxes. The Gazette-Mail inspected the drug order reports in December. Nine months of reports from one company were missing. The board hadn’t counted the reports.
“What happened shouldn’t have happened,” Sobonya said. “It was an egregious oversight.”
The House bill requires the pharmacy board to keep a log of suspicious drug orders, including shipment dates, the names of companies that submit reports and pharmacies flagged for allegedly ordering too many narcotics.
“It would let the public know just how many suspicious shipments are coming into specific pharmacies and specific areas to see if there’s a pattern of misbehavior,” Sobonya said.
The pharmacy board also would have to disclose when it forwards the reports to the attorney general.
Under the bill, the Attorney General’s Office would review the reports and refer them to medical licensing boards, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, law enforcement authorities or back to the pharmacy board for further investigation.
“Even though the attorney general doesn’t have prosecutorial powers, we felt there needed to be a clearinghouse to send the reports to the appropriate prosecutors and authorities,” Sobonya said. “It would add a second layer of accountability.”
The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee.
The West Virginia regulation that requires reports on suspicious drug orders — copied from federal law and on the pharmacy board’s books for more than a decade — was designed to keep in check the flow of prescription pills into the state.
The pharmacy board has acknowledged it didn’t start enforcing the reporting rules until December.
“When you have these shipments going into these communities — thousands of pills per resident — that should have been a red flag,” Sobonya said. “We have an addiction problem, and we have a duty as policymakers to try to help alleviate that.”
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