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Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Not Being Used

Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Due the abuse and addiction of these drugs, nearly every state has created a database that doctors and pharmacists can log in to if they want to check up on a patient that is acting erratically or too eager for their pain medication. The bad news is that according to a study published by researchers from John Hopkins University, only about half of the prescribing doctors asked admitted to using the programs. The systems are known as prescription drug monitoring systems (PDMS). They were created to help doctors identify “doctor shoppers” who go from office to office complaining of pain and then selling off their narcotic painkillers, or using them to feed their own addiction. The price of these drugs on the street are very high and so is the demand. One prescription of 90 pills can bring in over $4,000 in profit. This makes “doctor shopping” a very serious issue especially during an economically trying time like we are facing.

"This is an enormous problem. It is in fact an epidemic and it has really skyrocketed from 2000 to the present," says Steven Stack, president-elect of the American Medical Association and an emergency physician at St. Joseph East Lexington in Kentucky. "We have an incredible need to address this as a nation." Each day, 46 people in the U.S. die from overdosing on prescription drugs, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins conducted the first nationwide study to examine doctors’ use of the programs aimed at preventing some of these deaths, and published their results on Monday in Health Affairs. The team asked 420 physicians if they were aware that their state offered such a program, and whether they used it.

The team found that about 72 percent of doctors knew that their state’s program existed, but only about half, or 53 percent, reported logging in. Nearly a fourth of doctors didn’t realize that their state offered a program in the first place – which the authors say may be due to the fact that a dozen states have only just introduced programs in the past three years. Stack agrees, saying, "This is a relatively recent phenomenon. The adoption and uptake of tools doesn't just happen overnight." The researchers also tried to determine why some physicians who knew the databases were available had chosen not to use them. About 58 percent of doctors cited time constraints. Lainie Rutkow, a co-author and public policy researcher at Johns Hopkins, says states can help with this by allowing other staff members including nurses and physician’s assistants to log in and check prescriptions, as some already do. "It's still a little bit of a policy experiment," Rutkow says.

There is no point to having these systems if they are not going to be used by those who they were made for. Changes need to be made to the way these systems are ran so that it is easier and more appealing for not just the doctors but the office workers of those doctors to use it as well. Using the PDMS is the only way that these programs will make real changes.

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