The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 18, 2012

Sheriffs still seeking access to pharmacy board drug database

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Sheriffs across West Virginia say they could play a key role in the war against drug abuse if the Board of Pharmacy would only open up its database and let them in.

As lawmakers head into the final three weeks of this session, attention is accelerating on ways to combat the drug scourge.

In a Senate committee hearing this week, the Board of Pharmacy maintained the sheriffs have decided against pursuing access to its database to see who is buying drugs and the quantities involved.

Not so, says Rudi Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs Association.

“We absolutely have not backed off,” she said. “There had been some rumors that flew around that the sheriffs had pulled back on this. We absolutely have not.”

Rather, she said, the association is concerned that amendments suggested for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s huge anti-drug bill would have hurt some law enforcement agencies that already have access to the board’s database.

“We still believe that sheriffs should be granted access to this,” she said. “We are not going to let our bill be amended to the point we punish other brothers and sisters in law enforcement, or pit legislator against legislator.”

While sheriffs support the overall bill Tomblin advanced, Kidder said one provision tends to narrow the access of the database now.

A few weeks ago, Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner pleaded with lawmakers to open up the database, pointing out it now is restricted to task forces recognized by the federal government.

One argument against liberalizing access is that the Board of Pharmacy would be dealing with too many passcodes.

Kidder sharply disagrees.

“Most have only heard that some State Police, Drug Enforcement Agency and drug task force members are granted access to Board of Pharmacy records,” she said.

Yet, hundreds of others enjoy the same privilege — doctors and pharmacists, she said.

“There are also select people who work in the chief medical examiner’s office and the worker’s compensation committee,” she said.

“Which poses the question: If 40 passwords for sheriffs without drug task forces is too much, if 40 more doctors come to the state, will there not be enough passwords for them?”

Kidder said her group remains committed to working to have the sheriffs’ access amended into Tomblin’s bill, now in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We’re just trying to help law enforcement,” she said. “We need the access to fight the drug epidemic.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com