Bill To Combat Prescription Drug Abuse Approved By Senate

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The Vermont Senate has given its final approval to legislation that backers say is needed to combat an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the state.

There was a basic question facing members of the Senate: Should law enforcement officials be required to obtain a warrant in order to gain access to the state’s prescription drug database?

The Drug Monitoring System was established in 2006 to alert state health officials to unusual patterns of drug use by individuals who falsified prescriptions or visited multiple doctors to obtain a large amount of narcotic drugs.

The bill allows a limited number of law enforcement officials to gain access to the database when they suspect illegal drug activity has taken place.

Unlike a bill that passed the House earlier this year, this legislation doesn’t require the police to get a warrant before accessing the database. That concerned Chittenden senator Philip Baruth.

"I think what we’re settling into is a question of do people accept the fact that we have a problem with drugs do people believe it’s a war or epidemic," Baruth said. "I’m not saying we don’t have a problem here today but I think we can get carried away in terms of lessening the restrictions that are imposed by the Constitution in order to solve what we consider an epidemic."

But Windsor senator John Campbell argued that the problem of prescription drug abuse has grown so much in Vermont that a select group of law enforcement officials need all the tools they can get to fight this "growing epidemic".

"Right now we are experiencing an epidemic involving prescription drugs," Campbell said. "This has been building for a number of years and unfortunately we haven’t taken into consideration how big and how explosive this can be and will continue to be."

A House Senate conference committee will now meet in an effort to iron out their differences on the bill.

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