According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 Americans die from prescription painkiller overdose every day. Painkillers now kill more people than cocaine and heroin combined. Most states are now turning to prescription drug monitoring programs to help solve this widespread problem.
Prescription drug monitoring programs are databases that record the controlled substances prescribed by healthcare professionals, and data about each patient who is prescribed medications. The goal of these programs is to identify patients who may be abusing the system and obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors or pharmacists, which is referred to as “doctor shopping.”
In the past, patients could go from clinic to clinic, report a pain issue and receive a prescription. With a statewide monitoring program in place, pharmacists and doctors are better able to access patient information and learn when the individual last filled a prescription.
Why Be Concerned?
While many experts and citizens are in favor of these more comprehensive prescription monitoring programs, others still have their concerns. The American Medical Association is leery of any program that requires a physician to spend time checking and entering information into a database before prescribing certain medications. Other concerns surround patient privacy, the effectiveness of a program that does not extend beyond state borders or that many of the millions of patients who legitimately need prescription medications to manage pain/health issues may not receive them, and suffer.
Still, the prescription drug epidemic is such an overwhelming problem that most agree, something must be done. About 16 million people in the U.S. ages 12 and older say they have taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant or sedative for non-medical purposes within the past year, according to a 2009 national survey.
Taking an Integrated Approach
Drug monitoring programs are helpful, but they won’t solve the problem completely. Effective treatment programs and education campaigns for teens and other populations at higher risk for abuse, are also key factors in the fight against prescription abuse.
New Jersey has been doing its part to apply a combination of targeted programs. The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP) has been implemented, and officials are currently working to determine the most effective way to use the system. Project Medicine Drop is another program that teaches consumers how to safely dispose of unwanted prescription medications so they don’t end up in the wrong hands. The state has also listed several resources on its website for families and individuals in need of treatment for addiction.