Two of the biggest cases of prescription drug diversion in California weren’t broken open by detective work alone. Dr. Lisa Barden, an obstetrician from the Coachella Valley, stole patients’ identities to fuel her own prescription drug addiction. Dr. Nazar Al Bussam, was the top provider of illegal prescription drugs in Southern California for three years. Both doctors were arrested after being flagged by California’s prescription drug monitoring system.
California’s system, known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), is the oldest drug monitoring program in the nation. Read more about CURES at the State of California Department of Justice Website. At a time when prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high, California Governor Jerry Brown is threatening to shut down the system in response to budget cuts. According to authorities, future investigations into unethical doctors and illegal prescriptions would be seriously impacted if the system was no longer updated with prescription information from pharmacies.
Three years ago, the CURES database was moved online and made available to doctors and law enforcement officials in California. The database currently contains information related to 100 million prescriptions. Since 2009, more than 8,000 healthcare providers and pharmacists have registered to use the system and have accessed more than 1 million patient reports.
Establishment of prescription drug monitoring programs (abbreviated as PDMP) in every state is one of the goals of the Obama Administration’s 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan. Across the nation, 37 states have drug monitoring systems in place. The remaining states are in the process of legislating or setting up systems. Only California is considering shutting down an existing prescription drug database system.
California Governor Jerry Brown was a supporter of CURES during the years that he served as the state’s Attorney General. During his tenure high-profile investigations were launched into the prescription drug deaths of celebrities Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and Corey Haim. Faced with a fiscal crisis in California, Brown signed a budget last summer that eliminated funding for the department that maintains CURES. Support staff has already been cut from eight people to two.
State officials will make a decision within the next few weeks on whether to terminate all funding for CURES.