Addiction & Substance Overuse
Medical Care

Doctors and Drug-Abuse Monitoring

There are a number of databases that track drug prescriptions, but physicians aren’t using them as much as they should, say researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to a release from the school, a survey of 420 primary care physicians found that 72 percent indicated they were aware of their state’s program, and 53 percent reported they’d used their state’s program. But almost one-fifth – 22 percent indicated they had no knowledge of their state’s program.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs are state-run databases that track prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids. They are aimed at curtailing prescription drug abuse. Missouri is the only state that doesn’t have such a program

Through the databases, physicians can identify “doctor shoppers” — people who obtain prescriptions from multiple physicians, either to use or to sell or both — as well as other illegal or abusive behavior. Every state but Missouri has a prescription drug-monitoring program in place.

The physicians surveyed told the researchers that they thought accessing the date was “very easy” (31 percent) or “somewhat easy” (38 percent). But 58 percent thought it was too time-consuming to retrieve the information.

“The success of these programs depends on physicians’ knowledge, impressions and use of them,” said study leader Lainie Rutkow, JD, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. “While awareness of the programs is relatively high, barriers exist. The information in our report about the barriers physicians face will give states something to focus on.”

As for the 22 percent who reported not knowing about the programs, Rutkow says the figure is not as alarming as it might suggest because in many states the programs are new and physicians may not be aware of it. Rutkow said that finding represents an opportunity for states to communicate with physicians about their programs.

The findings were published in the journal Health Affairs.

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