LINNEUS, Maine — Since Gov. Paul LePage has been busy vetoing nearly every bill sent him by the Legislature, Clare Desrosiers, director of a prescription drug abuse prevention program, said Wednesday she was doubtful she’d receive funding for the initiative she oversees.
That is why she said she was “thrilled” upon learning Tuesday that LePage signed LD 1307, An Act To Fund The Maine Diversion Alert Program, into law. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Michael Willette, R-Presque Isle, and authorized $95,000 in funding for the program for one year.
“I was very excited,” Desrosiers said. “I definitely thought that the odds were against us because so many bills were being vetoed, but I got a chance to speak to the governor and he was very supportive of the program.”
The statewide Diversion Alert program, which helps Maine health care providers identify patients who may be abusing or illegally distributing prescription drugs, had been at risk of being eliminated unless it received new funding.
The program provides secure online access of drug arrest data to health care providers so they can identify patients who might be visiting different providers in search of prescription refills or new requests for opiates, narcotics and pain medications.
Each month, the program distributes a list of individuals arrested or summoned for prescription or illegal drug-related crimes in each public health district to prescribers, pharmacists and law enforcement agencies registered to receive the alerts. Health care providers are not required to share patient information with law enforcement officials.
For law enforcement agencies, Diversion Alert’s online database is the only system in Maine that links drug-related criminal charges statewide.
There was significant support for the bill, submitted as emergency legislation, during a work session in May. Fifteen individuals testified in support of the bill, including law enforcement officers, pharmacists and physicians. No one opposed the bill.
Dr. James Li of Maine MMJ Physician Services in Friendship testified in support of the bill, saying that it had helped to prevent the diversion of medical marijuana by legally certified patients from legitimate to illicit uses.
“The only means we currently have of determining whether a person has a drug arrest record, other than relying on that person’s own word, is through the state’s diversion database,” he said. “Because of this database, we have screened out approximately a dozen persons per year who have applied for certification, including those with prior convictions for marijuana trafficking.”
Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, was equally supportive. He said the information on the site is compiled in a user-friendly manner, making it much easier for prescribers to find it there than to look up the publication of an arrest or conviction in the local newspaper.
“More than one physician has told me of the usefulness of the program and related instances where they were more than a little surprised to find that a patient had been arrested for selling the same drugs being prescribed by the physician to the patient,” said Smith.
“Because photos are also included at times, physicians have identified patients by their photo when a fictitious name was being used at the practice.”
Desrosiers said she likely will not continue to apply for grants in the near future, as she has not been having much luck securing funding for the program.
“The governor suggested that we put in a bill each year for funding, so that is what we will probably do,” she said Wednesday.