LINCOLN - Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Thursday aimed at curbing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

Legislative Bill 471, introduced by State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, would beef up the state's five-year-old prescription drug monitoring program.

The program is intended to stop people from feeding their addictions or getting drugs to sell by going from doctor to doctor and pharmacy to pharmacy.

LB 471 would close loopholes in existing law that have hampered the current system, which is run by the Nebraska Health Information Initiative, a public-private network.

Currently, prescribers and pharmacies are not required to report prescription information to the system, and patients can opt out of having their information reported.

Prescribers and pharmacies must be paying members of the initiative to check the information.

If signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts, LB 471 would require all pharmacies to report to the new system when they fill prescriptions, starting in 2017.

The rule would apply to prescriptions filled outside Nebraska for addresses in the state.

Veterinarians would have to report prescriptions of controlled substances that they fill for patients, starting in 2018.

The bill would allow pharmacists and prescribers to check the system without cost before writing or filling prescriptions. It also would eliminate patients’ ability to opt out of the system.

However, the bill would not require that prescribers or pharmacies check the system, as some states do.

Nebraska got a pair of national grants last summer that are paying for the development of the new system, which will piggyback on the Health Information Initiative system.

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