Locked opioid prescription bottle requirement faces opposition in General Assembly

Would locking prescription bottles prevent teens from taking parents' pills?

With research showing that many teenagers start drug habits by pilfering their parents' opioid prescriptions, some advocates are calling for more sophisticated tamper-proof bottles.

But legislation to require pharmacists to dispense some drugs in lockable vials, such as those accessible by a password or fingerprint, quickly faced opposition in the General Assembly. Bills in both the House and Senate were quickly pulled when critics complained about the cost and effectiveness of the idea.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that nearly 70 percent of prescription opioid medications kept in homes where children live are not stored safely. One of the researchers testified in Annapolis that making it harder for kids to open the pill bottles would serve as a deterrent.

But groups including the Maryland Retailers Association, the Maryland Pharmacists Association and insurer Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States say they are not convinced that locking pill bottles is the best way to go.

The retailers association complained that the lockable vials cost $3 to $5, and that it was unclear who would pay for them — the pharmacy, insurer or consumer. The association warned that people could smash through the plastic bottles.

The group says storing drugs in lock boxes is a better option.

Kaiser Permanente officials said they do not believe that the locking vials will significantly limit access to drugs. They said more time is needed to understand the full impact of such a change.

One manufacturer of bottles that can be locked said the devices could save lives and prevent many from succumbing to addiction.

Milton Cohen, president and CEO of Safe Rx LLC, said the vials cost less than one dollar. He said he can sell his products to individual pharmacies, but called for legislation requiring them.

"The bigget public health impact comes from securing those medicine bottles in every neighborhood," he said. "Otherwise, your son or daughter will just go to a friend's house and get the drugs."

The legislation was sponsored by Del. Eric M. Bromwell and Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, both Baltimore County Democrats. Klausmeier pulled the Senate version over concerns raised during the hearings, an aide said, but she is still concerned about teenagers' access to opioids.

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