by Alicia Freese April 28, 2013 vtdigger.org An omnibus drug bill designed to tackle prescription drug and methamphetamine abuse is making headway in the Senate.The House passed H.522 in March. Since then three Senate committees have further honed the legislation. On Friday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted out the bill, and it is expected to make a stop in Senate Appropriations before it arrives on the Senate floor this week.The House proposal launches new initiatives to stem opioid and methamphetamine abuse. H.522 sets minimum standards for doctors to consult the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System in order to ensure patients are not doctor-shopping for opiates. It also creates a monitoring system for meth precursor drugs that can be purchased at pharmacies; establishes a pilot program for wider distribution of a drug that reverses opioid overdoses; and requires the commissioner of the Department of Health to develop a statewide program for the disposal of unused prescription medicine. In addition, H.522 places more regulations on the sale of precious metals and makes it easier to crack down on drug activity that takes place on abandoned property.The Senate left most of the bill untouched, but the Judiciary Committee made several additions, including a provision that would allow doctors to prescribe methadone to drug addicts. It also calls for a 90 percent reduction in methadone clinic wait lists for patients. The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs scaled back monitoring requirements for the sale of precious metals.Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the two major changes address what he saw as a major deficiency in the House bill, which did little, in his view, to expand drug abuse treatment.The Judiciary Committee added a provision that would allow doctors to prescribe Methadone for addiction treatment in an attempt to allow patients to bypass lengthy waits for the states treatment clinics.Sears says he has high hopes for this part of the bill. This would mean that my constituents who are currently driving to Greenfield, Mass., to get treatment would be able to get it in Bennington, Sears said. And thats a huge change â ¦ I dont know of any others states that have moved in this direction.Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington.However Jackie Corbally, the chief of treatment for the division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs (ADAP) in the Department of Health, told VTDigger its unlikely the proposed change in state statute will result in a change for Sears constituents. Thats because, while its a straightforward process to prescribe methadone for pain, doctors are encumbered by a number of state and federal regulations that prevent them from prescribing it for addiction treatment.Lifting state regulations wouldnt free the physicians from obligations under federal law, Corbally explained.The Judiciary Committees revision also calls for a 90 percent reduction in the number of patients waiting for methadone clinic treatment.Corbally said the department expects to make significant headway on addressing the wait list problem, but the 90 percent target is optimistic.We are incredibly optimistic about what this bill will do to our system as a whole, Corbally said. We feel in combination with the hub and spoke initiative we will be able to significantly address the waiting lists.The Judiciary Committee also put a three-year expiration date on the requirement that pharmacies use a free database to track purchases of precursor drugs, which can be used to manufacture meth.The sunset provision is a nod toward concerns raised by the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The database allows both pharmacists and law enforcement to access data on drug purchases at a nationwide level.In a memo to the Judiciary Committee, the ACLU explains, That means all the data entered at your local drugstore when you buy behind-the-counter Sudafed is instantly available to any police officer or pharmacist using the system.Sears who supports expanding law enforcement access to the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System (VPMS) said he thinks its inconsistent to allow police warrantless access to the meth database without extending the same privilege to the VPMS.A lot of people are concerned about this huge database. Heres the real incongruity. Theyll know if Im buying Sudafed they being state police but were not giving state police access to who is buying OxyContin. So theres a concern here.Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU, said the database, in addition to collecting information about drug sales, also holds onto peoples personal information, including their name, address, date of birth, and ID number.Gilbert concludes in the memo, I think its accurate to say that an increasing number of Vermonters are beginning to feel that every time the state encounters a new problem, a new database is built.The chair of the Health and Welfare Committee, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, said the House bill made really good improvements to the VPMS, and her committee didnt think any changes were necessary. The House version sets up minimum mandatory requirements for doctors to register with the database.The Economic Development Committee removed another new database from the bill. This one would have tracked the sales of precious metals, in an effort to crack down on addiction-fueled thefts. The committee also lifted some of the other regulatory requirements that the House version put on pawnbrokers.Under the Senate version, pawnbrokers are no longer required to get a license and they are subject to less rigorous bookkeeping requirements.