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7/28/1998

Oppose the 'Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998'

ASHP is working to oppose legislation introduced by Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Senator Don Nickles (R-OK)—the "Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 1998." This bill would "clarify Federal law to prohibit the dispensing of a controlled substance for the purpose of causing, or assisting in causing, the suicide or euthanasia of any individual." Violations of the law, if enacted, would result in the revocation of a practitioner or facility's privileges to prescribe and/or dispense controlled substances. 

ASHP's primary concern with this legislation is the potential chilling effect that it will have on the patient's need for aggressive pain management. Under H.R. 4006/S. 2151, a physician or pharmacist will have the burden of proving to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that the intent of prescribing controlled substances was to relieve the pain of a suffering patient, and not to hasten death. 

During a July 22 House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution markup of H.R. 4006, Chairman Charles Canady (R-FL) offered an amendment to the bill clarifying that the mere knowledge that the use of a controlled substance may increase the risk of death is not sufficient to meet the burden of proof that the intent was to cause or assist in causing death. This amendment was adopted by the Subcommittee. While the intent of the Canady amendment was to assuage practitioners' fears that the legitimate prescribing of controlled substances to relieve pain will not result in a revocation of a DEA registration number, ASHP remains concerned that there is a very fine line between what constitutes "intent to cause death" vs. "intent to relieve pain with knowledge that the use of the controlled substance may increase the risk of death." ASHP believes that passage of H.R. 4006/S. 2151 would leave physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals fearful that the dispensing of pain medications could result in DEA sanctions—even when death was unintended. 

H.R. 4006 passed the Subcommittee on the Constitution on a party-line vote of 6-5. It is expected to be brought to a vote before the full House Judiciary Committee within the next two weeks. In the Senate, the bill has also been referred to the Judiciary Committee, but no action has been taken at this point. The Judiciary Committee may hold hearings on S. 2151 as early as the week of July 27, and a markup of the legislation could follow at any time. 

Call both of your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative TODAY to register your opposition to this dangerous legislation! For information on your Senators/Representative, go to: http://voter.cq.com/cq_job.htm. This website, sponsored by the Congressional Quarterly, allows you to enter your home zip code and will then direct you to information (including telephone numbers) on your Senators/Representative. Of course, if you have any questions, please contact the ASHP Government Affairs Division directly for assistance (gad@ashp.org). 

When you call, ask to speak with the Senator/Representative's staff member who is responsible for health issues. The message to convey should be short and simple. Explain that you are a constituent, you are a pharmacist, and you are a member of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. You would like to register your opposition to H.R. 4006/S. 2151 [refer to H.R. 4006 when speaking with your Representative; S. 2151 when speaking with your Senator's offices], the "Lethal Drug Abuse Prevention Act," which addresses the issue of assisted suicide. Explain that ASHP is the 30,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care, and other components of health care systems. Note that while ASHP does not currently have an official policy that either condones or condemns the practice of assisted suicide, ASHP is very concerned with the potential unintended consequences that the enactment of H.R. 4006/S.2151 would raise. As advocates of humane and compassionate end-of-life care, ASHP's principal concern is for the comfort and safety of the patient. Explain that ASHP members, such as yourself, are the most likely to be on the "front lines" of end-of-life care issues, and therefore are likely to be the most affected by this legislation, which directly impacts the ability of pharmacists, practicing in conjunction with physicians and other practitioners, to aggressively relieve the pain and suffering of dying patients. Your final comment should be, "Please communicate to Representative/Senator X that the pharmacy profession opposes H.R. 4006/S.2151." 

If you are not able to speak to the health legislative assistant and are asked to leave a message, leave as many of the aforementioned details in your message as possible, and ask that the staff person return your call. Make sure to state that you are a constituent! 

Thank you for taking the time to respond to this important call to action. 1998 is an election year and more than ever, grassroots advocacy does have an impact. 

If you have any questions regarding this issue, please call 

Ellen Evans, Government Affairs Associate,
301-657-3000, ext. 1326.

After you place your phone calls, please notify Ellen by e-mail: eevans @ashp.org, or by FAX: 301-657-1615. 

Posted July 28, 1998. Source ASHP's Government Affairs Division