The Word in the House 3/29/2012 -- Tanning Beds & Rx Databases

If you’ve ever watched a foot race, you know that as two runners in a dead heat approach the finish line, they go all out and sprint to the finish!  Something similar happens in the legislature when “crossover day” is in sight.  Crossover is the point in the legislative session when any bill that has a chance of passage on the floor of the House or Senate must be voted out of committee.  Any bill that doesn’t make this cut is dead for the session.  As you can imagine, this results in a flurry of bills that have been worked on for weeks finally being sent to the floor for a vote.  Crossover happened on March 16th, so this past week saw dozens of bills reach the House floor for a vote, and almost all were passed and sent to the Senate for that body’s consideration.  Likewise, the House will be taking up bills that were passed by the Senate in the weeks to come. 

One of the bills that was passed is H.157 relating to restrictions on tanning beds.  The impetus for this bill is the recognition that cases of melanoma have increased dramatically both nationally and in Vermont over the past few decades.  While melanoma affects Vermonters of all ages, it is the number one cancer among young adults aged 25 to 29 and is one of the most frequent malignancies among teenagers.  Indeed, Vermont has one of the highest per capita melanoma rates in the country, 29 cases per 100,000 versus 26.5 per 100,000 for the U.S.

Indoor tanning during youth appears to be particularly dangerous.  The use of indoor tanning before the age of 30 increases a person’s melanoma risk by 75%.  Since 1998, the number of teens reporting the use of tanning beds nationally rose from 1% to 27%.  In Vermont 21% of teens reported using tanning beds.  For this reason H.157 makes it unlawful for a tanning facility or operator to allow any person who has not yet reached the age of 18 to use any tanning equipment. 

Any tanning facility violating this law is subject to a civil penalty of $500 for the first violation up to $1500 for the third and subsequent violations.  The bill also allows an exemption for use of this type of equipment by a licensed physician for medical purposes or by a person who owns tanning equipment exclusively for personal, noncommercial use.

Another important bill is H.745 relating to Vermont’s prescription drug monitoring system.  Prescription drug abuse has been a growing problem in Vermont.  It has led to increased crimes of prescription fraud as well as crimes of theft by addicts in an attempt to fund their habits.  Doctors and pharmacists play an unwitting role when abusers shop doctors for multiple prescriptions and have them filled at multiple pharmacies.

The purpose of H.745 is to maximize the effectiveness and appropriate utilization of the Vermont prescription monitoring system to prevent the abuse of controlled substances without interfering with the legal medical use of those substances while providing opportunities for treatment for abusers of these substances.

The bill requires the prescription to include the date of birth of the individual as well as the quantity of the substance written in both numerical and word form to prevent quantities from being changed.  Prior to dispensing a prescription for a controlled substance, a pharmacist must require the individual receiving the drug to provide a signature and show valid and a current government-issued photo ID as evidence that the individual is the patient for whom the prescription was written, the owner of the animal for which the prescription was written, or the bona fide representative of the patient or animal owner. If the individual does not have valid, current government-issued photographic identification, the pharmacist may request alternative evidence of the individual’s identity, as appropriate. 

Prescription data is maintained in the Vermont Prescription Management System (VPMS) database maintained by the Department of Public Safety.  The bill allows specially authorized law enforcement investigators to request access to VPMS from the Commissioner of Health when abuse is suspected, but only if they have obtained a warrant.  This protects patients, doctors and pharmacists from unreasonable access to their data by investigators.