Budget cuts affect program to track drugs

November 10, 2011 12:26:06 AM PST
The number of people who die because of prescription painkillers has more than tripled over the past ten years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While the federal government calls it an epidemic, a program in California to combat the problem is being dismantled.

The state's Department of Justice says California's prescription drug trafficking program called CURES helped prosecutors secure a conviction in the case involving Conrad Murray, the doctor of Michael Jackson.

The system enables medical personnel and law enforcement to connect the dots when patients go doctor shopping, seeking prescriptions for popular painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin.

Acting Narcotics Chief Kent Shaw says CURES' days are numbered: A $70 million budget cut to the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement means the program will effectively shut down by the end of the year.

"People should be very concerned about having a problem that is one of the worst-growing problems that we have and is getting worse all the time," Shaw said. "Now we're not going to have a tool to effectively address it."

CURES is so effective, the White House identifies it as a promising method to help slow the rise in prescription painkiller deaths, but these are tough budget times and Governor Brown urged lawmakers earlier this year to extend the expiring tax increases for a few more years to save valuable programs -- or else.

"The Governor did warn that if we had to go to an all-cuts scenario, programs like this were eventually going to end up on the table," said HD Palmer with the California Department of Finance.

The cuts anger people like Bob Pack, who is spearheading a ballot initiative to place a quarter-cent fee on every pain pill sold in California paid for by the drug companies to fund CURES. Pack's two young children were killed in 2003 after being struck by a woman who Peck said was a doctor shopper and was driving under the influence of alcohol and Vicodin.

"I really think the legislators in Sacramento are really out of touch with the safety of Californians by cutting this program back," Pack said. "They're just not protecting Californians."


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