While California has had a drug tracking database, it has long been plagued with a variety of technical problems that have made it less effective. A new overhaul was in the works for months and was completed, with the new system rolling out early this January.
This need for this upgraded database is urgent, as health officials are now calling the rising tide of addiction to prescription drugs an epidemic. There are currently more Americans dying from opioid drug overdoses than those who are dying in drunk driving accidents. These numbers come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and show a worrying trend.
This trend has made the regulators across California focus on addicts who spend their time doctor shopping. Records show that there have been patients who have gone to over one hundred prescribers in four years, receiving 45,000 units of prescribed opiates that are worth over $800,000 on the street. These numbers occur because while pharmacists are required to report all dispensed drugs to the California monitoring system, neither doctors or pharmacists are required to check the database before writing or dispensing a new prescription.
There have been many pharmacists and doctors who have complained about the system, citing the technical failures as reasons to not utilize the current recording system. In fact, in the past, doctors have had to register for logins and passwords by standard mail and frequently do not get a response for up to six months. With the technical failures and the backlog at the Department of Justice, many doctors have given up on the system.
Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the Californian Medical Association states that many doctors want to use the system but have found that it was unusable in the past. This is partly due to budget cuts that occurred in 2009, followed by additional cuts in 2012 that left lingering issues in the system. After the state Legislature passed State Bill 809 in 2013, which charged doctors a six dollar annual fee with their medical license renewal, the issues slowly began to be resolved.
As additional funds flowed in, the state offered CURES 2.0 in 2015, and after a website compatibility issue was resolved, the new system proved to be more user-friendly. Robert Sumner, the Deputy Attorney General sees the program running far faster and says it’s more responsive and intuitive to use.
CURES 2.0 allows doctors to delegate prescription searches to nurses, which makes the system far more accessible and usable. Data pulled from the system will alert physicians about patients who may be doctor shopping. It uses an algorithm that pulls data regarding patients visiting different prescribers, whether people are getting more than one prescription, and how frequently patients receive a prescription.
However, Bob Pack, a safety advocate, finds that this current system is still not enough. He is certain that any program, regardless of how innovative it is, will be useless when not mandated by the state. He believes that mandatory checks should be instigated across California immediately and continues to fight for that adjustment, a crusade he has followed for over nine years.
This is due to tragic circumstances in Packs background. Pack lost his two children in 2003 when they were struck and killed by a driver who was high on prescription opiates that she had obtained through a variety of California doctors. Ever since then, Pack has been on the forefront of the push to redevelop the database, working to write SB809 and a pending bill, SB 482, that would require that physicians consult medical histories before prescribing narcotics.
Even with the push from advocates across the state, the California Medical Association states that they need to make sure the system works before mandating any new requirements. They are not the only state to pause before mandating checks of the database. Forty-nine states have a prescription database, but only ten require that they are checked before a prescription is written or filled.