The purpose of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) is to identify individuals who attempt to fill prescriptions of controlled substances, such as opioid pain medications, inappropriately. Ideally, the intervention would lead to screening for addiction and treatment when necessary.
Up until now in Pennsylvania, however, it was the attorney general who was overseeing the state PDMP—not the health department—and it was law enforcement personnel accessing the data—not clinicians or pharmacists. Essentially, the state’s 1970s-era PDMP was set up under the incarceration philosophy rather than the treatment philosophy. But all that is changing.
The state launched its newly designed PDMP on Thursday, now with oversight by the health department and access granted to clinicians and pharmacists. In its first day of operation, the new PDMP registration site was overrun with clinical professionals seeking to participate.
By law, prescribers and dispensers must use the database, and information about a filled prescription must be entered with in 72 hours. Health professionals will have real-time access to the data. Even prescribers who do not typically prescribe controlled substances must register for the system and query it if they have reason to believe, using sound clinical judgment, that a patient might be misusing or diverting drugs, according to the state health department. Prescription records will be maintained for seven years.
Reportedly, the queries can be completed in seconds—an important feature for busy prescribers. Clinicians in some states have pushed back on the process of checking PDMPs because they have found it too cumbersome in everyday practice.
Link to treatment
According to Philly.com, advocates in Pennsylvania are concerned that those with addiction who are refused a prescription will turn to heroin on the streets rather than treatment—especially if treatment beds aren’t available or affordable. The state offers a website and local hotline for individuals seeking treatment for addiction.
“The [Gov. Tom] Wolf administration has launched the new PDMP to empower medical professionals to not only identify patients struggling with addictions, but to prevent substance abuse before it starts,” said Secretary of Health Karen Murphy, MD, in a statement.
More than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died last year from drug overdoses.
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