New drug law goes into effect Monday

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Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - David Dycus

UNION CITY, Tenn. - A new law aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse in Tennessee went into effect Monday, but not everyone is onboard.

Back in 2006, Tennessee launched the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database.  Pharmacists were already required to register and check the database when dispensing narcotic drugs.

The Tennessee Prescription Safety Act of 2012, which went into effect Monday, requires doctors register and then check the database every time they prescribe narcotics.  This move is similar to last year's prescription drug crackdown in Kentucky.

Doctor John Hale in Union City has mixed emotions about the new law because he says, while there's a need for a crackdown, he fears legitimate patients might not get the medicines they need.

"This is a legitimate problem, something we have got to get a handle on," Doctor Hale said.

The state's solution?  Require all doctors check patient history before they prescribe pain killers or other narcotics.

Since 2006, Doctor Hale said he's periodically used the system when he's suspected someone of doctor shopping.  He's had some unpleasant surprises along the way.

"It's surprising to me the people I've trusted for years, they're the ones going to different doctors getting different medications," Hale said.

Now, he'll have to log in every time he prescribes narcotics. He worries about how much time that'll take.

He tried to access the system for WPSD Local 6 Monday, but it wouldn't work.

He eventually gave up.

Hale said he and other physicians might have to send patients away empty-handed.

"They're not going to take a chance with their livelihood and their job with anything that can get them in trouble," Hale said.

Patients like Mike Calhoun understand.  He says a little inconvenience is well worth it if it stops prescription drug abuse.

Under the law, if the Tennessee Department of Health suspects a physician is not using the system, the department will report the physician to the Board of Health.  Hale said he and other doctors worry their licenses could be at stake, so they're taking this law very seriously.

The Tennessee Medical Association sent out an email to Tennessee physicians Monday saying there have been problems with the system recently and told them not to worry.  That's because a provision in the law that says if the system isn't working, doctor's are not required to use it.

Hale said there are other exceptions to the law.  For instance, he is allowed to prescribe a seven day prescription without checking the system.

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