Prescription drug abuse has become such a problem that New York City police officers have equipped OxyContin bottles with GPS devices with the expectation that armed thieves will steal them from pharmacies.
But donning a mask and wielding a gun isn’t the only way prescription drugs are illegally obtained. So-called “pill mill” doctors who knowingly prescribe large quantities of highly addictive painkillers to patients who misuse them are also to blame. CVS is the first pharmacy to do something about it by revoking the dispensing privileges of 36 clinicians who it found were inappropriately prescribing painkillers.
Kudos to the chain for its analysis of proprietary data to identify outliers, like the preventive medicine doctor who prescribed 44,000 doses of opiates each month, compared to the 662 doses prescribed by the average preventive medicine doctor analyzed by CVS.
The strategy shows that CVS takes seriously the Controlled Substances Act, which requires pharmacists to ensure that medicines are appropriately prescribed.
CVS is willing to share the names of these doctors with the Drug Enforcement Agency, but I’d like to see that offer extended to its competitors — especially those lacking such extensive prescriber records.
Depending on the state where they operate, physicians and pharmacists may have access to a statewide database that tracks doctors; what they’ve prescribed for which patients; the patients themselves and where they’ve filled their prescriptions.
The system has been invaluable to North Carolina pharmacist Mike James who contacts prescribing physicians when records show that a customer who has presented a seemingly legitimate prescription has recently been prescribed the same or similar drugs by another physician.
Forty-four states have a monitoring system in place, and five more are in some stage of implementation.
Such widespread adoption is good for the industry, but it may not be enough since in an effort to game the system, abusers cross state lines to fill prescriptions.
Connecting the state systems to form a single, powerful database seems like the obvious solution.
It would help physicians ensure that their patient didn’t obtain a similar script from another doctor out of state, and likewise assist pharmacists in the fight against prescription drug abuse.
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