Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Attorney General Kane and Sen. John Rafferty: prescription drug abuse crisis requires cooperation, legislative action

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today reiterated her support for legislation to help address the state's opioid prescription drug abuse epidemic after agents from the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation along with agents from the Philadelphia DEA Diversion Task Force arrested and charged a Philadelphia woman on 257 counts of fraud, forgery and identity theft for obtaining prescriptions for narcotics.

"A law requiring the use of state-issued prescription pads, as well a reporting requirement when those pads are stolen, would assist physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement in preventing forged prescriptions from being filled," Attorney General Kane said. 

State Sen. John Rafferty (R-44) has introduced Senate Bill 556, which would establish an official state prescription form for use by medical professionals authorized to prescribe drugs. The forms would be serially numbered and non-transferable and would be required for use by medical professionals when prescribing Schedule II, III or IV prescription drugs. Under the bill, medical professionals would be required to report lost or stolen pads.  

"The growing prescription drug abuse problem is reaching epidemic proportions and is destroying lives in every region of this Commonwealth," Rafferty said. "This arrest is just one more example of the need for swift passage of Senate Bill 556. The Legislature must do everything within its authority to prevent this serious abuse and to ensure that these drugs remain in the proper hands."

The criminal charges state that between January 2012 and February 2014, Jacqueline M. Bernard, 44, 10700 Pelle Circle, Philadelphia, stole the identities of six physicians in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties. Using their names and Drug Enforcement Administration numbers, Bernard allegedly filled approximately 58 prescriptions for oxycodone (Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and alprazolam (Xanax) tablets at pharmacies in Bucks and Montgomery counties.  

"Prescription drug abuse and overdoses have escalated to a full-blown crisis for families and communities across the Commonwealth," Attorney General Kane said. "I have made addressing this issue my number one priority this year." 

An overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives recently passed an expanded prescription drug monitoring program bill, H.B. 1694, sponsored by state Rep. Matt Baker (R-68) in October of last year. A similar bill, S.B. 1180, sponsored by state Sen. Pat Vance (R-31), recently was passed unanimously by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee and is awaiting floor action.   

Attorney General Kane noted Pennsylvania has the 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States. She said prescription drug and related-heroin abuse reaches across all ages, demographics and geographic areas. 

Bernard is charged with 58 counts of possession of a controlled substance by fraud, 58 counts of possession of a controlled substance, 58 counts of identity theft, 58 counts of forgery and 25 counts of insurance fraud. She will be prosecuted in Montgomery County.

Attorney General Kane thanked the DEA for its assistance with the investigation.

(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)