For decades, the small pads of paper used to write prescriptions have been an iconic part of every doctor’s office. Now these seemingly innocent tablets are assuming a more sinister role. According to drug enforcement officials, stolen and forged prescription pads are at the heart of the current epidemic of prescription drug abuse. In some recent cases, such as that of Dr. Lisa Barden of Rancho Cucamonga, doctors have stolen prescription pads from other doctors and used them to obtain highly addictive painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. In other cases, pads are printed by counterfeiters.
Many law enforcement officials and lawmakers see paper prescriptions as an old fashioned mechanism that encourages fraud. Prescription pads are in high demand on the black market; law enforcement officials report that drug dealers will pay up to $400 for a stolen prescription drug pad. Up until seven years ago, California required doctors to create triple copies of prescriptions. That requirement was dropped when “tamper-proof” forms were introduced, but criminals soon found ways to counterfeit the new forms.
Many experts believe the time has come to replace paper “scripts” with e-prescriptions that are transmitted electronically between doctors and pharmacies. The federal government has already implemented just this type of electronic system for Medicare prescriptions. As an incentive, doctors who use the SureScripts-RxHub system instead of paper receive bonus payments from Medicare.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Sgt. Steve Opferman of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department cited sophisticated computer-based tools used by criminals to create fake prescriptions. These prescriptions look so real that law enforcement officers are unable to tell them apart from legitimate prescriptions.
In another recent case in the Los Angeles area, a cache of prescription painkillers as well as thousands of blank prescription pads were found stored in a diagnostic imaging center when it was raided with police. The prescription forms were printed with the names of doctors who had offices in other parts of the city, a violation of state law that requires prescription pads to be shipped only to a doctor’s office address. According to Sgt. Opferman, the fake prescription forms were worth millions of dollars.
Most states, including California, have put drug database systems into place that allow doctors, pharmacies and law enforcement agencies to track patient drug purchases with the purpose of limiting “doctor shopping.” Creating a similar system that tracks e-prescriptions will reduce the risk of fraud and hold doctors more accountable for the prescriptions they write.