Health officials push pill-tracking databases
The nation’s top health officials are stepping up calls to require doctors to log in to pill-tracking databases before prescribing painkillers and other high-risk drugs.
The move is part of a multipronged strategy by the Obama administration to tame an epidemic of abuse and death tied to opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. But physician groups see the proposed requirement to check the databases as overly burdensome, another time-consuming task that takes away from patient care.
Helping push the administration’s effort forward is an unusual, multimillion dollar lobbying campaign funded by a former corporate executive who has turned his attention to fighting addiction.
“Their role is to say what needs to be done; my role is to get it done,” said Gary Mendell, CEO of the non-profit Shatterproof, which is lobbying in state capitals to tighten prescribing standards for addictive drugs.
Mendell founded the group in 2011, after his son committed suicide following years of addiction to painkillers. Previously, Mendell was CEO of HEI Hotels and Resorts, which operates upscale hotels. To date, Mendell has invested $4.1 million of his own money in the group to hire lobbyists, public-relations experts and 12 full-time staffers.
A new report from Shatterproof lays out key recommendations to improve prescription monitoring systems, which are currently used in 49 states.
The systems collect data on prescriptions for high-risk drugs that can be viewed by doctors and government officials to spot suspicious patterns. The aim is to stop “doctor shopping,” where patients rack up multiple prescriptions from different doctors, either to satisfy their own drug addiction or to sell on the black market. But in most states, doctors are not required to use the systems.
Last week, the White House sent letters to all 50 U.S. governors recommending that they require doctors to check the databases and require pharmacists to upload drug dispensing data on a daily basis.
Prescription drug monitoring databases are “a proven tool for reducing prescription drug misuse and diversion,” said Michael Botticelli, the White House’s drug czar, in a statement.
But government health officials also say that virtually all state systems need improvements, including more up-to-date information.
“There isn’t yet a single state in the country that has an optimal prescription drug monitoring program that works in real time, actively managing every prescription,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press conference last week.