The State of Texas has added a new weapon to its arsenal in the war against prescription drug abuse and doctor shopping. The Texas Department of Public Safety has responded to the growing prescription drug problem by launching an online tool to identify drug abusers and dealers by tracking prescription painkillers like OxyContin and other controlled drugs.
The new tool is an online database called Prescription Access in Texas. Prior to the introduction of the new database, pharmacists sent prescription data to a paper-based system. Getting information out of the old system could take several days or longer. Now more than 100,000 health care professionals and law enforcement officials will be able to find out immediately which medications a Texas patient has received in the past year. In addition to revealing which patients are abusing or dealing drugs, the Prescription Access system can be used to identify doctors who are overprescribing narcotic drugs.
The Center for Disease Controls and Prevention has reported that prescription drug overdoses from opioid painkillers including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone have risen sharply in over the past ten years, from about 3,000 in 2,000 to more than 15,500 in 2009.
Prescription Access in Texas includes data about prescription painkillers, cough syrup that contains codeine and anti-anxiety medication. The database is secure and can only be access by registered users who have provided licensing identification. Pharmacists have a window of seven days to report prescription data; the system will store data for 12 months.
According to Dr. Terence McCarthy, medical director of the Fort Worth Emergency Services Collaborative, the database will help doctors tell the difference between a patient who has actual pain and one who is addicted to prescription medication. Detection is important not just to deny drugs to those who are addicted, but also to help them get treatment for their opiate dependency.
Other states have put similar systems into place, including California. However, California’s CURES system has had drastic cuts to its support staff due to a $70 million shortfall in the Department of Justice budget. The Sacramento Bee reports that the CURES program may run out of funding by the end of 2012. A national prescription drug monitoring system was approved by federal lawmakers in 2005 but has never been funded. At a time in our nation’s history when prescription drug abuse is at epidemic levels, the lack of funding for effective prescription drug monitoring systems is a real tragedy.