Government Technology

At Issue: Prescription Problem, IT Solution?

P.J.M. Flickr cc

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)

June 25, 2012 By

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. “Many ended up in the hands of people who misused or abused them,” said a report on the CDC website.

Deaths resulting from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade, the report continued. “The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. A big part of the problem is nonmedical use of prescription painkillers — using drugs without a prescription, or using drugs just for the ‘high’ they cause.”

Global pharmaceutical sales are closing on $1 trillion per year and, according to the New York Times, lobbying by pharmacists and drugstores has hindered efforts to put stricter controls on even the most-abused pharmaceuticals.

An effort that does seem to be moving forward is something called “prescription drug monitoring programs” (PDMPs). Last Thursday, June 21, the Obama administration announced a two-state pilot project that would ramp up the use of statewide electronic databases to collect, monitor and analyze data from pharmacies and physicians to identify a patients’ controlled drug history. “Improving real-time access to the information contained in the PDMPs,” said the announcement, “will provide an incentive to health care providers to use the program.” While nearly all states have such programs or have legislation authorizing them, the CDC says they are often not used.

In a related issue, Oregon in 2006 made over-the-counter medications that contain the key ingredient in methamphetamine — pseudoephedrine — available only by prescription. By 2009 Oregon's violent crime rate took the biggest drop in the nation. Law enforcement officials attributed the drop to the prescription-only law. Today in Oregon, meth lab busts are down 96 percent since the law was enacted. Mississippi passed a similar law in 2011 and meth busts have since dropped 60 percent. However, the prescription-only requirement for such drugs has been fought by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) a pharmaceutical industry group, which ironically, is pushing an electronic tracking system instead.

“Technology plays a critical role in our comprehensive efforts to address our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of national drug control policy, in a release. “Together with education, proper disposal practices, and enforcement, improving existing prescription monitoring programs is a priority for this administration.  We hope these innovative pilots will help usher in an era of ‘PDMPs 2.0’ across the nation to improve real-time data sharing … increase interoperability of data among states, and expand the number of people using these important tools.”

At Issue: Can “PDMP 2.0” make a dent in America’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, and can the initiative survive drug lobbying efforts?

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Tragoudi Arpa    |    Commented June 26, 2012

As a sufferer of chronic pain, sinustis and many allergies, I frankly find articles like this as tremendously inflammatory and disturbing. These types of articles make it extremely difficult for people who really need these drugs day in and day out just to get to "zero" pain and to live with "zero" allergy effects to have what they need without running ridiculous, costly medical and regulatory gauntlets. What are any of these laws doing to make getting what true sufferers need less costly and less hassle? NOTHING.

John    |    Commented July 2, 2012

I'm also concerned about the difficulty I have in getting the stimulant my doctor prescribes to offset the drowsiness side effect from another medication. We are causing the vast majority of responsible people to experience a lot of hassle and to have gaps in medication supplies to prevent others from abusing the products. I would advocate a policy similar to what has been proposed for frequent fliers. Rather than a one size fits all policy, have established patients who have demonstrated responsible use of a duly authorized medication to obtain the meds with much less hassle and hoops to jump through than a new customer or patient.

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