Keeping Tabs: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

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It is an all too familiar scene facing healthcare providers across America: A patient shows up in the clinic and is in pain. The complaint is subjective because there is no way to know if the patient is truly in pain or not… the question that often arises in the mind of the healthcare provider is “should I prescribe this patient pain medications?” At one time this may have been a simple question of serving the patient and prescribing pain medication to ease their pain, but not anymore.

Prescription pain killer abuse has become an epidemic in the United States. The numbers are staggering, nearly 15,000 overdose deaths occur annually with many more abusing them.

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Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention

Healthcare providers, however, are gaining access to new tools to help them better treat their patients and curb the painkiller abuse epidemic. One such tool is prescription drug monitoring programs that are being established in many states across the nation. These databases keep track of prescription painkillers (and other controlled substances) that a patient receives.

A healthcare provider can sign in and look up their patient to see their use history. Healthcare providers can quickly determine if the patient has been receiving painkillers from multiple sources and can cut them off. This is not to say that healthcare providers utilize the programs in a law enforcement capacity, but instead to identify patients who have a true problem with painkiller abuse and hopefully allow them to attempt to intervene…possibly saving a life.

The programs have come a long way, but they continue to face problems. They have not been established in all states nor are they linked between states. Further, funding continues to be an issue. Never the less the programs need support to be expanded across the nation to provide health care providers with a tool to curb the painkiller abuse epidemic.

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One Response to “Keeping Tabs: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs”

  1. mcdonsrun Says:

    This is an excellent blog on a big problem in American medicine. There is so much prescription drug abuse in the US and in my last 5 years in clinical practice in Virginia we used the Virginia prescription drug monitoring program. Pharmacists as well as MDs in our area really appreciated the information transparency.
    There continue to be dubious “pain management” clinics set up in states (often right on the state lines) without the drug monitoring programs which write for narcotic prescriptions for cash. It is a sinister way to make a living with a medical license in my opinion.
    Moreover, some of the clients to these clinics will sell the prescription drugs at a much higher price on the street.
    Cudos on this blog for bringing attention to a relatively unknown problem- these are prescription drug abuse issues, not illegal drugs.

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