Pennsylvania Bill Aims To Eliminate Paper Prescriptions

By Britni de la Cretaz 03/15/17

The proposed bill would make doctor shopping more difficult. 

Doctor passing prescription to patient.

A Pennsylvania bill would require electronic prescriptions for opioids in order to cut down on prescription fraud and prevent drug misuse. Senate Bill 299 also aims to make “doctor shopping” more difficult.

“This is one main way we can help stop the flow of opioids,” state Senator Richard Alloway told ABC27. “The handwritten prescriptions can be forged, or they can be not forged and taken out and sold on the street. This way, this is a direct link between the doctor to the pharmacy of choice.”

According to Surescripts, an electronic prescribing network, up to 9% of patients who abuse opioids in the United States use forged or stolen prescriptions. Even when written on tamper-proof material, prescriptions can be copied or misused.

The argument behind SB 299 is that paper prescriptions are becoming antiquated, and that newer systems should be used to prevent prescription fraud.

“It’s an outdated system," said Rob Norris, a pharmacist in Chambersburg. "In 2017, we’re trying to establish handwriting. We’re trying to take care of patients, and medicine isn’t something you want to get wrong." Other states—like New York, Minnesota, and Maine—have already implemented this strategy to try to curb opioid abuse.

E-prescriptions would make opioid prescriptions easier to track via drug databases. Some insurers, like Cigna, are pressuring doctors to check these databases before prescribing controlled substances.

Currently, even though nearly every U.S. state has a working drug database, USA Today reported that less than 20% of doctors are actually checking them before prescribing. Cigna CEO David Cordani told USA Today that if the databases were used as intended, about 97% of the 7.5 million people at risk of addiction could have been identified when doctors saw "the amount of narcotics or opiates they were in possession of."

Part of the delay in transferring all controlled substances to e-prescriptions is that federal regulations prevented it until 2010, because they require two forms of ID in order for doctors to order the controlled prescriptions, according to the Boston Globe.

Hospitals would need a technology upgrade to implement the two-ID requirement, but they have been slow to adopt them. As of 2015, less than 1% of controlled substances were prescribed electronically, even though the national rate for e-prescriptions was about 67%, Surescripts said.

“[E-prescribing] eliminates a lot of those extra steps of is this even a real script? Now we can just get to the heart of the prescription and the patient,” Norris said. Senator Alloway is currently looking for co-sponsors for his bill.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.