The Drug Overdose Epidemic: States Require Opioid Prescribers to Check for 'Doctor Shopping'
Now, in the face of a drug overdose epidemic that killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, a handful of states are insisting that health professionals do a little research before they write another prescription for highly addictive drugs like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin.
"We in the health care profession had a lot of years to police ourselves and clean this up, and we didn’t do it," Kentucky physician Greg Jones, an anti-addiction specialist, said in an online training course he gives doctors in his state. "So the public got fed up with people dying from prescription drug abuse and they got together and they passed some laws and put some rules in place."
By tapping into a database of opioid painkillers and other federally controlled substances dispensed in the state, physicians can check patients' opioid medication history, as well as their use of other combinations of potentially harmful drugs, such as sedatives and muscle relaxants, to determine whether they are at risk of addiction or overdose death.
Prescribers also can determine whether patients are already receiving painkillers or other controlled substances from other sources, a practice known as doctor shopping. Patients with this type of history are at high risk for addiction and overdose and may be selling drugs illicitly.
In 2012, Kentucky became the first state to require doctors and other prescribers to search patients' prescription drug histories on an electronic database called a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) before prescribing opioid painkillers, sedatives or other potentially harmful and addictive drugs.
Sixteen states have enacted similar laws, and experts, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, are encouraging other states to do the same thing.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, signed a law in April that requires certain prescribers to use the state's monitoring system, and a similar bill is moving through the Legislature in California.
Although the American Medical Association supports physician use of drug tracking systems to identify potential addiction and drug diversion to the black market, state medical societies have argued against mandatory requirements they say interfere with the practice of medicine. Patients' privacy and legitimate pain needs, they say, could be jeopardized by requiring busy physicians to investigate potential patient abuse of pain medications.
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