Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Amid Debate over Opioids, Doctors' Voices Fill the Halls of Pa. Capitol

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Amid Debate over Opioids, Doctors' Voices Fill the Halls of Pa. Capitol

Article excerpt

A deep-pocketed lobbying powerhouse is walking a fine line as Harrisburg grapples with the opioid crisis.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, which bills itself as the voice of the state's physicians, has been at the center of efforts to write voluntary guidelines physicians can use when prescribing powerful narcotics. But it is opposing two of Gov. Tom Wolf's biggest priorities - restrictions on emergency room prescribing and demands that doctors check patients' drug histories every time they prescribe controlled substances.

"We have for years recognized that there is a problem" with opioids, said Scott Shapiro, a physician who is president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

Doctors "own our responsibility on that" he said, attributing an era of painkiller prescribing to "the way we were educated and the directions we were given, and our own biases."

The society, though, wishes that the focus were on expanding drug treatment and is on guard for legislative overreaction.

"Legislating anything with regard to the conditions in which we prescribe and what we prescribe would be a drastic mistake," Dr. Shapiro said.

The society does "a lot of good stuff," said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bensalem, whose bill demanding more checks of patient drug histories has drawn the society's opposition. "On this issue, if they're going to oppose that, I think they're wrong."

Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-East Stroudsburg, has sat across the table from the society on her proposal to bar emergency room doctors from prescribing more than a week's worth of opioids and knows its lobbyists are trying to amend her bill in the Senate.

"We've had disagreements and agreements," she said, "but everything has been very straightforward."

Under the society's umbrella are a wealthy nonprofit organization, a political action committee and one of the most muscular lobbying arms in the state.

The society's IRS filings indicate that at the end of 2014, it had $196,974,509 in assets, some stemming from smart investing of proceeds from the sale of a malpractice insurance arm. The society made income of $24.2 million in 2014, mostly from investments, and spent $15. …

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