Nearly Half of Doctors Don't Use Prescription Drug Monitoring Databases

By McCarton Ackerman 03/04/15

Nearly every state in the union has a drug-monitoring program.

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Almost every state has a prescription drug monitoring database for doctors to use in order to halt “doctor shoppers,” but a new study has found that a huge percentage of doctors aren’t taking advantage of it.

The findings from researchers at Johns Hopkins University involved compiling data from 420 physicians. Despite 72% of doctors knowing that their state’s program existed, only 53% reported logging in.

About 58% of doctors who don’t use these drug databases cited time constraints as the main issue, while another 28% reported that their state’s systems wasn’t easy enough to use. Even the program administrator for California’s database, Cures, testified that he was often kicked out of the system.

"It's a useful tool," said Steven Stack, president-elect of the American Medical Association and an emergency physician at St. Joseph East Lexington in Kentucky. "But every time I do it, I have to type in the patient's first name, last name, date of birth, social security number and street address."

The database has proven to be helpful for those who use it. About 98% of those physicians who knew a prescription drug monitoring program was in place within their state found it to be useful, while nearly 75% said they cut back on their opioid prescriptions as a result. Study co-author Lainie Rutkow recommended that the states address issues of time constraints by allowing nurses and physician’s assistants to log in and check prescriptions.

New Jersey recently introduced a bill to require mandatory doctor participation in its state database, but the Medical Society of New Jersey has opposed this, stating that physicians should only be required to check if they have suspicions of doctor shopping with a specific patient. Missouri and Pennsylvania are the only two states without a database that health providers can access, but bills are now on the table for this in both states.

Twelve states have added databases in the last three years as prescription drug abuse and deaths continue to skyrocket. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported the number of people overdosing on opioids has quadrupled since 1999, while one in 143 patients prescribed an opioid painkiller in 2008 were potential doctor shoppers.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.