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Two prescription drug bills pass Senate, head to Gov. Brown

Two bills aimed at combating prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths in California won unanimous approval in the Senate on Tuesday and were headed for the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The proposed legislation, inspired in part by a series of investigative reports in The Times, would help authorities better track prescriptions for painkillers and other addictive narcotics and allow for enhanced scrutiny of deaths involving such drugs.

SB 62 by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) would require coroners to report prescription overdose deaths to the Medical Board of California for review. The bill was introduced in the wake of a Times investigation into nearly 4,000 accidental deaths involving prescription drugs in Southern California. The Times found that in nearly half the cases, drugs that caused or contributed to a death had been prescribed by that person's physician.

SB 809 by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) would enhance and provide sustained funding for California's prescription drug monitoring system, a program known as CURES, which was gutted during the state's fiscal crisis. The CURES database contains detailed data on prescriptions for painkillers and other commonly abused drugs, including the identity of patients being prescribed the drugs and the doctors prescribing them.

Public health experts say analyzing such data to look for drug abusing patients, as well as problematic prescribers, is key to addressing the prescription drug epidemic.

A third bill by Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-San Francisco), which would enable the medical board to act more quickly to suspend the prescribing privileges of doctors suspected of endangering patients, failed to make it out of the Assembly following heavy lobbying against the measure by the California Medical Assn. It is expected to be reconsidered later this week.


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