Moving opioid prescriptions online gets vigorous House debate


A bill that would move prescriptions for hard drugs online across the state is scheduled for a final vote Monday, but lawmakers gave the idea a tough debate Friday.

House Bill 1279 is supported by pharmacies, almost all of which are equipped to take prescriptions straight from the doctor’s office, rather than handed to them scrawled on paper. That puts pharmacists in the uncomfortable role of the detecting fraud.

The Colorado Medical Society counters that it’s a costly proposition for doctors to buy the software, train staff, do annual maintenance and likely have to move all the office’s records to digital.

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, the bill’s sponsor, said forged or duplicated prescriptions, however, are a pipeline to illegal pills on the street that feed the state’s addiction and death tolls.

She waved a piece of prescription-weight paper and the told the House members they could order it online and write illegal prescriptions at home.

“Right now we’re prescribing powerful substances on pieces of paper,” she said.

Several states have recently passed similar laws, but it’s too early to tell if e-prescriptions are showing an impact, but in Minnesota, where the switch was made in 2011, opioid abuse has increased. There are a lot of factors at play, however.

“This is a bill that sounds good, but it really doesn’t do what it’s intended to do,” said Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton.

She called the bill a regulatory burden.

“A lot of healthcare professionals and doctors have dropped out of the profession, because they hate the additional regulations,” Beckman said.

Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance,  backed her up.

“I feel strongly this is an unnecessary mandate on businesses,” he said. “I’m sympathetic with the desire to cut down on fraud and trying to do something about opioid problem, generally, but I think e-prescriptions are unrealistic for physicians and other prescribers.”

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, said the bill would provide an electronic record of pills and “close the last remaining loophole and make it harder for people to get addicted with these opioids.”

If the bill passes out of the Democratic-led House, it will have to start all over in the GOP-held Senate. If it passes there with any amendments, it would go to a compromise committee to work out a deal both chambers could agree on before the session ends May 9.

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