Cash-Strapped California Keeps Monitoring Pills

By Carmela Kelly 03/08/12

The state still looks out for prescription drug abuse. But the program's future is a bit hazy.

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Californian pill-poppers beware—the state will still be closely scrutinizing opiate prescriptions, despite reports that its landmark monitoring program was going to be shelved. CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) ended up surviving the cash-strapped state’s 2011 budgetary cuts. “The database was housed and monitored under the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement," California Department of Justice spokesperson Michelle Gregory explains to The Fix. "With the closure of that bureau, CURES is now housed under the Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS). This department also oversees other criminal databases.” So practitioners, pharmacists and law enforcement can still scour 100 million entries in a huge database, sniffing out doctor shoppers (addicts who seek multiple doctors to get as many prescriptions as possible) and practitioners who prescribe suspiciously high quantities of controlled drugs. “If they [the Justice Department] see something in the data they would refer it accordingly or notify a law enforcement agency for further investigation,” says Gregory. “The prescription drug monitoring program is a valuable investigative, preventative and educational tool for law enforcement, regulatory boards, educational researchers, and the healthcare community.”

But doctor shoppers in the state may have higher hopes for the future. “Currently the DOJ is working on trying to obtain other funding for more positions and to keep the program going through this year," a US Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman tells us, which doesn't sound too definite. He adds that while 48 states have passed legislation for prescription drug monitoring programs, only 40 have enough funds to operate them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says monitoring programs are a promising strategy to combat the deadly epidemic of prescription drug abuse that has multiplied across the country.

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Carmella Kelly is a reporter living in the Phoenix area. Find her on Linkedin