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Pharmacists Fail to Track 'Scripts

Prescription drug monitoring programs are being widely ignored in many states, pharmacists tell The Fix.

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By Carmela Kelly

04/11/12

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Many doctors and pharmacists in various states still aren't signing up for White House-backed prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). The programs use databases to detect addicts who obtain multiple prescriptions and doctors who issue illicit quantities of controlled substances. “The problem for years in the western part of the United States has been chain dispensers," Larry Pinson, pharmacist and executive secretary of the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy, tells The Fix. "It's not as big a problem on the east coast historically where there are fewer chains." Some say it isn’t pharmacists’ job to police prescriptions, but Pinson argues, “Once it’s off the shelf it’s off the shelf.” Nevada's PDMP, established in 1997, is one of the oldest, but despite pharmacists’ potential to save lives or take criminals off the street, only 14% of dispensers and 21% of licensed prescribers participate.

As Pinson suggests, some of the biggest drug store chains refuse PDMP access. “Anything you can do to put pressure on this is a good thing,” Virginia Herald, executive officer of the California State Board of Pharmacy, tells us. “We want pharmacists to have access. We strongly encourage the program.” Rite Aid spokesman Erik Harkreader says that 21 of 31 states they cover have pharmacist participation, depending on state legislation. Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger says, “We’ve had the program available within the chain for several years.” CVS refuses to allow its pharmacists access, as The Fix previously reported.

Dean Wright, the director of Arizona's PDMP, also faces low participation in his state, at only 13.3% of pharmacists and 15.5% of prescribers. “It’s anywhere in the country, not just us," he says. "Unless you pass a law you can’t force them to participate." But he does spy some hope: "I’ve heard that some practitioners are now receiving letters from insurance companies wanting them to use it," he tells us. "The letters say if there’s an incident, and using the system could have prevented it, then they won’t cover the practitioner. That should get their attention.”

In California, the state where Brittany Murphy and Whitney Houston died with prescription drug involvement, PDMP participation is lower still, at less than 4% of 40,000 licensed druggists. Eddie Bubar, however, uses it daily to “avert potential problems.” He’s the pharmacist who had a bad feeling about Murphy’s drug use prior to her death and cut her off. “It wasn’t going to be on my conscience,” he tells us, although he can’t remember if he had access to the database in Murphy’s case. Bubar finds California’s PDMP useful: “There could very well be three to five doctors issuing prescriptions. We use the program to see multiple pharmacies and prescriptions. If we find something out we let the doctors know.”

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