Amid Drug Epidemic, State Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Use Bolstered
Even before the opioid crisis, most states implemented a state prescription drug monitoring program – a database that pharmacists and doctors use to track the prescription drug use of patients. These programs can be used to warn prescribers that a patient may be doctor-shopping or taking high doses or combinations of medications that may be dangerous.
Unfortunately, many physicians have failed to take advantage of these systems, and while overdoses related to prescription medications seem to have leveled off, they are still killing thousands each year.
Amidst the epidemic, at least 39 states are now urging doctors and other health professionals to use prescription drug-monitoring programs (PDMPs.) In the recent past, drug monitoring databases were used most often by law enforcement to identify “pill mills” where physicians prescribed opioids indiscriminately for cash.
Historically, pharmacists have done better – many check a patient’s history before filling a prescription. But doctors have been accused of oft-neglecting these programs. Indeed, until states started making PDMPs obligatory for physicians, only about one-third of health care professionals were actively using the systems to identify patients at-risk for drug dependence or overdose.
In states where the use of these systems is mandatory, however, the rate of doctors using them is more than 90%. In these states, opioid prescribing has also declined along with hospitalizations due to drug abuse and overdose deaths. They are also experiencing an increase in addiction treatment as more and more physicians are referring patients after discovering that they are doctor-shopping and addicted to painkillers.
Also, some states such as Wisconsin are adding more information to PDMPs, including non-fatal overdoses and hospital admissions or arrests related to drug use. Most states also allow busy doctors to delegate another person to access database information and obtain a patient’s drug use history before their appointment.
Forty-seven states have also begun adding drug use data from nearby states.
Over half of all states have included a doctor assessment function in their PDMPs so that physicians and other prescribers can monitor how their practices compare with others in the area and if they are exceeding recommended or required guidelines.
Finally, an increasing number of states also send alerts to physicians, pharmacists, and police if a patient is obtaining abnormally high doses of opioids or is taking dangerous combinations of drugs.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology