Will Drug Monitoring Databases Help Stem Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have been implemented in almost every state and they offer new hope in the fight against the prescription drug abuse epidemic. However, with underfunding and some objections from doctors being raised, the effectiveness of the virtually nationwide approach is yet to be established. It’s touted as a solution to the problem of “doctor shopping” and as a useful approach in curbing prescription drug abuse on the whole, but addiction is a complex issue to tackle. Finding out about the programs, the problems they intend to solve, and the potential issues with the approach helps you understand what states across the country are doing to combat the epidemic.
Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics
According the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7 million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically in 2010. The most common type of drugs abused is opioid analgesics like Vicodin, which are basically narcotic painkillers related to heroin. Other substances, such as amphetamine-like stimulants and tranquilizers, which treat anxiety, are also widely abused across the country. A report in the Los Angeles Times reveals that deaths from drug overdoses have increased for the eleventh consecutive year. The problem is believed to stem from the relative availability of prescription medicines and their reputation as “safe,” combined with the addictive nature of the substances.
Doctor shopping is the practice of going to numerous doctors for prescriptions of narcotic medications to get more pills. It’s already outlawed according to general fraud, subterfuge, and deceit laws across virtually all states, but actually identifying it is extremely challenging without a centralized database. As a doctor, you have no way of knowing if a patient coming into your practice has already gotten another prescription from somebody else, unless each prescription is registered. The relative ease of doctor shopping means that some people are able to obtain vast quantities of narcotic medicines and then sell them for others to abuse.
This is why prescription monitoring programs were set up. They focus on potentially addictive drugs such as OxyContin, Adderall, Valium and Vicodin, and can be thought of as central databases for doctors to record their prescriptions. Before issuing a prescription, doctors check the database to determine whether the individual has been prescribed the drugs before or should already have a sufficient supply. The benefits of this are immediately obvious: not only will it prevent doctor shopping; it will also help to identify individuals who may be addicted to prescription drugs. Federal funding is available, which has driven the overwhelming majority of states to set up their own programs.
The programs have been widely adopted across the US, with states such as Wisconsin and Florida recently passing bills and implementing PDMPs. Now, only Missouri lacks a program, after the bill was defeated in 2012. Despite problems with the functionality of the databases and some funding issues, doctors in places such as San Diego have eagerly registered for the programs.
Problems With the Approach
Despite the positive outlook for prescription monitoring programs across the country, there are some potential issues with the strategy. The main one is the privacy, which was cited as a reason the idea isn’t being well received in Missouri. Essentially, confidential medical information is being placed onto a widely accessible database. Although the databases can only be accessed by medical professionals and pharmacists, there is an obvious concern about patient privacy.
Whether this fairly trivial intrusion into personal privacy is warranted by the scale of the prescription drug problem in the U.S. is open to debate, but ultimately doctors and pharmacists have the same information for their regular patients anyway.
Doctors have raised some more practical and defensible issues, though. One such criticism is that the databases are extremely time-consuming. Consulting a database before prescriptions are given and then recording any prescriptions takes time (particularly if there are server issues or problems with the functionality of the database), and this could impact the number of patients they could see.
Prescription monitoring programs will not prevent people from abusing prescription medicines. Patients will still often receive too many pills for their pain and later give in to the temptation of recreational use or give them to friends to do the same. However, the databases will do wonders to reduce the amount of prescription drugs available for people to abuse. Doctor shopping isn’t the whole problem, but it is a significant contributor, and the monitoring programs are exceptionally well-equipped to curb the practice. In this way, it’s a vital step toward reducing the shocking numbers of deaths each year from prescription drug overdoses, and something that should be welcomed with open arms.