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Thumbs up: Factors in overdoses require closer scrutiny

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 10:11 PM

One of the more troubling issues in West Virginia, as well as many other states, is the high rate of deaths attributed to prescription drug overdoses.

The Mountain State has one of the highest rates for such deaths, and there has been much discussion about ways to reduce it. One strategy that may help is getting a better handle on the factors that come into play when someone is killed by a drug overdose.

Toward that end, the state Senate on Monday passed legislation that creates a team of professionals to track and analyze fatal prescription drug overdoses. This group, called the Unintentional Pharmaceutical Drug Overdose Fatality Review Team, would be responsible for documenting trends and patterns related to the illegal sale and distribution of prescription drugs and compiling an annual report for the governor's review.

The team also would develop uniform standards for reporting prescription drug overdoses by law enforcement agencies and emergency medical services. It would be allowed to review medical and mental health records but it would be barred from calling witnesses or taking testimony from anyone involved in an overdose investigation.

Closer monitoring, as well as establishing rules for reporting prescription drug overdoses, could fill gaps that now hinder forming a better understanding of contributing factors to overdose deaths. For example, more oversight and clearer reporting procedures might have led to quicker recognition of the substandard prescribing practices of a Milton doctor who in 2011 was accused of contributing to the deaths of 11 people over nearly six years -- including the deaths of five patients in a seven-month period.

Such a review team is badly needed, and the bill establishing it should become law.

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