A loophole in a national data system allows pill mills and drug abusers to avoid detection by making their transactions in cash, according to the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association.
“Currently, 93 percent of prescription drug transactions in this country go through a national data system that identifies the prescriber, the doctor and the medication,” said Steve Tanner, Raleigh County Sheriff. “However, data from the 7 percent of prescriptions paid for with cash are never submitted to this national system, which creates a ‘cash loophole’ that allows these transactions to avoid detection.
The data system is used by pharmacies to ensure third-party payment for prescriptions by private insurance or public insurance like Medicare and Medicaid. Cash transactions in which customers pay all out-of-pocket costs are not routed through the system. As a result, there is no record or information for investigators or law enforcement agencies to use when warning signs are raised.
In addition to to the data system for insurers, 41 states have prescriptiondrug monitoring system that track prescriptions for controlled substances such as painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. The goal is to prevent the misuse, abuse and diversion of the drugs.
“Most illegal prescriptions are paid for by cash,” said Greenbrier County Sheriff Jim Childers. “They come from pill mills or pharmacies who care little for who is going to be the end user.”
West Virginia sherriffs are calling on federal lawmakers to enact a policy to have cash transactions for prescription drugs routed through the national data system. Real-time alerts such as drug interactions, too high of a dosage, or too frequent filling of prescriptions would notify regulators and law enforcement officials of suspected illegal activities or dangerous health situations.
West Virginia pharmacies fill more prescriptions per capita than in any other state, according to the sheriff’s association. Over 152,000 West Virginians have prescription drug problems and drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for West Virginians under the age of 45.
According to a recent report prepared by Brandeis University for the Pew Charitable Trusts, cash transactions can be an indicator of questionable activity, such as doctor shopping.
“The Drug Enforcement Agency views cash transactions as giant red flags that signal increased likelihood of illegal behavior,” said Greenbrier County Sheriff Jim Childers.