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New Law Aims at Halting Physician Shopping for Painkillers

Virginia has been tracking the number of times that physicians write prescriptions for sedatives, painkillers, and muscle relaxers. Records show that on a monthly basis, 1.1 million prescriptions are filled. Even with this important information, the Commonwealth is still unaware of whether the prescriptions are used for their intended purpose of killing pain or are instead by substance abusers to address their drug needy appetites.

In a bid to control the use of painkiller prescriptions, a law that became effective as from 1st July now requires doctors to run checks on patients with the Prescription Monitoring Program. This is before doctors fill new opiate and benzodiazepine prescriptions that are expected to last for over 90 days. With this requirement, it is expected that doctor shopping for painkillers by patients will be halted.

The director of the program, Ralph Orr said that the program has been fruitful so far with over 734,000 checks being done in this year’s second quarter. This is a sizable increase from the same quarter in 2014 in which 428,000 checks were done. The program has started off well with registered users growing from 26,000 to 60,000 with much of this increase being credited to more physicians understanding and learning more about opiate abuse.

The program has received enormous support from all quarters. The chief of chronic pain management of Carillion Clinic, Dr. Alfred Beshai has expressed his wish that the Prescription Monitoring Program would be used regularly by all doctors and that they would fill fewer narcotics prescriptions.

While many patients and healthcare providers have had the wrong expectations, narcotics should only be used for acute pain in pre or post- surgery treatment. They are necessarily not for treating most pains in the body. There are other medications and procedures that are more effective than narcotics in blunting of chronic pain with ultimate solution being to identify the pain’s source and dealing with it.

For patients who pain management would be beneficial to them, primary care physicians are advised not to fill painkiller prescriptions for them; but transfer the patients for pain monitoring programs in the earliest possible instance. Often, painkillers are used in masking pain instead of treating the source of pain. Most patient’s pain would easily be relieved if they maintained healthy diets, exercised their bodies, quit drug use and manage chronic conditions.

In truth, the state is aware of who writes prescriptions but what is unknown is whether physicians are prescribing more than they should. There are many patients who do not need to use opiates but still get prescriptions from physicians in cash-pay clinics for as long as the physicians are still offering their services. The governor’s newly created Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse proposes that the state tracks physicians on the basis of their prescriptions. This would provide the physicians with reports on the number of opiate prescriptions they have given and how these numbers compare to those of other physicians. The Prescription Monitoring Program has prioritized on protecting physicians from getting duped by patients. The program now credits each patient with a score box that alerts physicians if patients have had previous narcotics prescriptions.

In an effort to curb Virginia’s rapidly growing number of death attributed to overdoses of opiates and heroin, Gov. Terry McAuliffe created the Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse. Reports show that opiates were associated with 70 percent of drug poisoning deaths recorded between 2007 and 2013. In 2013 alone, Virginia recorded 468 deaths due to opiate overdose and 213 from Heroin overdose.

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