Last week, the U.S. Senate passed new legislation – Jessie’s Law – that allows details of patients’ past drug abuse to be shared with physician’s if patients give their consent. At present, drug abuse histories are prohibited from being shared to protect the privacy of patients. That information is kept separate from a patient’s medical record.
Unfortunately, the law can have terrible consequences, as was highlighted by a tragic incident involving a recovering addict Jessica Grubb. Jessica had been struggling with opioid addiction for several years, although after undergoing treatment, she had been sober for six months. Jessica had turned her life around and had taken up running, but suffered an injury that required surgery. Jessica was admitted to hospital.
Her parents were at the hospital and told her treatment team about her history of opioid abuse and that she should only be prescribed opioids under the strictest supervision. That information was not passed on to her discharging doctor and she was issued with a prescription for 50 oxycodone tablets. Later the same evening, Jessica took several tablets and died from an overdose.
Had the law allowed her drug abuse history to be shared, her death would have been avoided as an alternate treatment regimen would have been prescribed.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and was co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and was unanimously passed by the Senate Thursday. There were last minute concerns about the bill regarding privacy and HIPAA, which were raised by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), although it did not derail the bill.
According to the legislation, “history of opioid use disorder should, only at the patient’s request, be prominently displayed in the medical records (including electronic health records).”
The Department of Health and Human Services must, within one year of the passing of the bill, and in conjunction with appropriate stakeholders, issue guidance and best practices for healthcare providers on the circumstances under which a history of opioid use disorder should be prominently displayed in a patient’s health record, the purpose and process by which the information is displayed, and what constitutes a patient’s consent.
While the Senate has passed the bill, it will need to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President before it is written into law. Sens. Manchin and Capito will be working on ensuring the bill gets through the House.