Bill to combat prescription drug abuse becomes law
A bill aimed at reducing illegal prescription drug diversion that was drafted by Attorney General Beau Biden’s office and sponsored in the General Assembly by two registered nurses was recently enacted when Gov. Jack Markell signed the measure into law.
House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Walker, D-Townsend, and Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, strengthens efforts to ensure that patients’ medications are not diverted by healthcare workers, patient family members, and others. The bill, which received unanimous support in both chambers of the General Assembly, passed the Senate last month and the state House last June.
“This new law is a powerful tool available to law enforcement as we continue to aggressively combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse in our state,” Biden said. “I applaud the General Assembly for recognizing the need for this legislation and Governor Markell for signing it into law.”
HB 154 creates a new criminal offense of medication diversion that applies to anyone who intentionally diverts prescription narcotics from patients who are under the care of a healthcare program in medical or other 24-hour facilities such as hospitals, group homes, or nursing homes. This felony-level charge subjects offenders - whether licensed healthcare workers who provide treatment to patients, patients’ family members or their visitors, or non-healthcare workers employed by programs and facilities that serve patients - to potential jail time. In addition, a conviction more adequately subjects offenders to being placed on the Adult Abuse Registry and more specifically addresses criminal conduct that subjects an individual to professional licensing discipline as opposed to current law, which subjects an offender to a misdemeanor-level conviction for theft.
HB 154 is part of a two-bill package that Biden, Hall-Long and Walker introduced last spring to increase the state’s efforts to fight prescription drug abuse. The other bill in the package, Senate Bill 119, was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law last summer. The measure enhances Delaware’s prescription monitoring efforts to respond to the recognition that increasing numbers of addicts are turning to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics to obtain narcotics as enhanced enforcement has limited previous sources of drugs.
The bill’s chief provisions limit all medical facilities except licensed pharmacies from dispensing more than a 72-hour supply of a controlled substance to patients and requires all dispensers to enter any prescription of a controlled substance into the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, just as pharmacies are currently required to do.