Instances of substance abuse and overdose deaths related to the non-medical use of prescription drugs, particularly narcotic pain relievers, have soared in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1,000 people each day in the U.S. are treated in emergency rooms for prescription opioid problems, and more than 15,000 people died from deaths related to prescription opioids in 2015.
The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health from SAMHSA reports that 2 million Americans ages 12 and older have a substance use disorder related to prescription opioids. One of the ways that various states have tried to address this mounting substance abuse issue is through the use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).
What is a PDMP?
A Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is an electronic database that a state uses to track prescriptions for controlled substances. A PDMP can provide pharmacists and healthcare providers with up-to-the-minute information about a patient’s prescription drug history so that they can make timely decisions that are in that patient’s best interests.
In 2012, Kentucky became the first state to mandate the use of PDMPs and require that all prescribers look through the database before writing a prescription for an opioid painkiller. Now, 49 states and the District of Columbia have legislation in place that authorizes the creation and use of these valuable databases. Of those, 20 are run by the state’s Board of Pharmacy, 16 by the Department of Health, and others by various other state agencies.
How PDMPs Can Help Fight Substance Abuse
One common way that an abuser of prescription opioids gets access to medication is called “doctor shopping.” A person with a substance use disorder will go to many different healthcare providers, often walk-in clinics and emergency rooms, to request prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Since these providers are unable to see where someone was also getting prescriptions filled, this put them at a disadvantage, that is, until those records became linked through a PDMP.
In the states where providers are required to check these databases prior to prescribing opioids, Pew Charitable Trusts reports that the overall number of opioid prescriptions written has plummeted. There has also been a dramatic drop in emergency room visits and drug overdose deaths attributed to these drugs. In Kentucky, PDMP use saw Vicodin prescriptions drop 13 percent and prescription overdose deaths drop 25 percent in one year.
The Future of PDMPs and Getting Help for a Substance Abuse Issue
Unfortunately, many PDMPs remain underused because states do not require that providers utilize the databases. Some are not using the systems because it conflicts with existing privacy laws and others simply have not implemented the tools to enforce use. There is also the issue of crossing state lines since many PDMPs do not have interstate connections. This may change in the coming years as regulators see the need for additional oversight.
Prescription opioid abuse is a serious issue that can lead to significant consequences, including death. If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from a substance abuse problem, you are not alone. The good news is that there is effective and affordable opioid addiction treatment available.