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Overdosing on prescription painkillers is a leading cause of death in the United States. A nationwide study of hospital data revealed that opioid painkillers at least in part, caused 68 percent of overdoses treated in the emergency room.
In light of this growing epidemic, every single state, except Missouri, has instituted a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The problem now? Getting doctors to use it.
Nine out of 10 doctors admit that prescription drug abuse is a problem in their community, according to a poll conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Theoretically, drug-monitoring programs could curtail this problem by tracking prescriptions so that physicians and law enforcement officials would be notified if a person was “doctor shopping” – the practice of getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors, and either abusing the drugs or selling them on the very profitable black market.
Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Results
A recent survey published in Health Affairs, though, showed less than perfect results regarding states drug monitoring programs. Here are some results:
- Out of a 1,000 physicians polled for this study, 420 eligible participants responded
- 72 percent of these doctors said they knew of their state’s monitoring program
- Only 53 percent reported that they’d actually used the programs
- More than 20 percent of the participating doctors had no knowledge of their state’s monitoring program
- In terms of utilizing the data the monitoring programs accumulate, 58 percent of physicians indicated that retrieving the information was too time consuming
- Another 28 percent suggested that data from the monitoring program wasn’t in an easy-to-use format
The states in and around New England have been hit particularly hard with the opioid abuse and “doctor shopping” crisis. Newly released data from 2013 reveals that in Plymouth County, Massachusetts (population less than a half-million) 66,142 people received prescriptions for opioid drugs that year.
The state’s drug monitoring program showed that 16.8 percent of these people went to four different doctors and four different pharmacies to obtain the painkillers.
What the monitoring program cannot account for is if some of the patients counted in that data had genuine medical reasons for seeing multiple doctors and using multiple pharmacies.
Some experts in the healthcare industry point out that these drug-monitoring programs are fairly new, and that it’ll take time to work these issues out.
Lainie Rutkow, a PhD and associate professor at the Bloomberg School, said, “While awareness of the programs is relatively high, barriers [for physicians] exist.” She also hopes that this latest report regarding the programs will give states a focus when it comes to improving them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that clinical use of prescription opioids almost doubled between 2000 and 2010. Additionally, the rate of fatal overdoses is at an all time high in the United States. Advocates of drug monitoring programs continue to stress the urgency of not only getting doctors onboard, but also expanding the program so that it crosses state lines. The hope is that this will save lives.