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West Virginia Sheriffs Call for Closing "Cash Loophole" in Prescription Drug Purchases with National Tracking

CHARLESTON, W.Va., Oct. 3, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The West Virginia Sheriffs' Association wants to close the "cash loophole" for illegal prescription drug sales, so it is calling on the federal government to use existing data systems to monitor and track down such activity.

"Currently, 93 percent of prescription drug transactions in this country go through a national data system that identifies the prescriber, the doctor and the medication," Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner said. "However, data from the 7 percent of prescriptions paid for with cash are never submitted to this national system, which creates a 'cash loophole' that allows these transactions to avoid detection."

This system, which is used across the country by pharmacies and other retailers, is designed to ensure third-party payment for prescriptions when customers use private insurance like a health plan or public insurance like Medicare and Medicaid. Right now, cash transactions in which customers pay 100 percent of the prescription costs out-of-pocket (known as self-pay) are not routed through the sophisticated nationwide system.

The Sheriffs' Association wants federal lawmakers to institute a policy that would have cash transactions for controlled substances routed through this system. It could be tailored to the needs of law enforcement to provide real-time trend data about where cash transactions occur, how they are filled and how they are prescribed. Including data from cash transactions would allow real-time alerts to be provided to law enforcement and regulatory agencies. The association believes it is important to have a national system, because the majority of West Virginia's population lives within 30 minutes of the state border. The system could be enabled to block illegal cross-border doctor shopping.

"A recent report prepared by Brandeis University for the Pew Charitable Trusts found that cash transactions can be an indicator of questionable activity, such as doctor shopping," Greenbrier County Sheriff Jim Childers said. "The study found that is especially true for individuals who have health insurance and that pill mills usually accept only cash payments. The Drug Enforcement Agency views cash transactions as giant red flags that signal increased likelihood of illegal behavior."

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said "chilling" West Virginia statistics show the need to do more to fight prescription drug abuse:

  • Between 2001 and 2008, drug deaths quadrupled statewide.
  • Pharmacies fill more prescriptions per capita in West Virginia than in any other state.
  • Prescription painkillers cause more overdoses in West Virginia than in any other state.
  • Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for West Virginians under age 45.
  • More than 152,000 West Virginians have prescription drug problems.

"These illegal prescription drugs are a significant problem not only for law enforcement but also for others, because they are destroying communities and families," Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said. "Gov. Tomblin and our federal representatives have made great strides, but we must keep striving for solutions and tools we can add to our toolbox. When it comes to combating prescription drug abuse, we need an all-of-the-above strategy."

Raynes-Kidder said the association will reach out to the state's congressional delegation in coming weeks.

"This is a national problem," she said. "So for a data-tracking system to be accurate, it must be national."

SOURCE West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association