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Drug Czar Pushes for Rx Monitoring in Missouri

US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski tells The Fix why he's in Missouri to back prescription drug monitoring.

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By May Wilkerson

08/15/12

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Forty-nine states have adopted drug monitoring programs to help address America's prescription drug abuse scourge—but not Missouri. US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who calls the programs "useful," is in the state today to speak with pharmacists, medical professionals, community members and lawmakers. "Our goal is not to tell people what they should or shouldn't do," Kerlikowske tells The Fix, "but we have provided a lot of information about the number of overdose deaths, and the costs in health care for treating Rx drug abuse. We wanted to put that information out there, and also to let people know that there are federal grants that pay for the start-up costs." Kerlikowske is joined today by Republican Senator Kevin Engler, who unsuccessfully pushed for a state monitoring program earlier this year; that bill was filibustered by Republican Senator Rob Schaaf, a family physician, who claims that databases infringe upon patients' privacy. "All they have to do is punch in your name and address and they can find out every controlled substance you've been prescribed," Schaaf said this week.

The Drug Czar has understandably called prescription pill abuse an "epidemic." It was responsible for nearly 21,000 deaths in 2009—more than the number of cocaine and heroin deaths combined. Most states have rolled out monitoring programs that use electronic databases to identify if a patient is "doctor shopping"—visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions. The programs can also help identify "pill mills," offices that overprescribe meds and allow addicted patients to feed their habits. Feedback on these programs has been positive: "Physicians that use these programs say they are very helpful in determining which patients may be doctor shopping, and then the goal is to help get those patients into treatment if they need help," says Kerlikowske. "We don't see prescription monitoring as a silver bullet, but it's one more tool to be used in [combatting drug abuse] and it can be very effective. Doctors have called it a patients' safety tool."

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