Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Reduce Opioid Prescriptions By 30%

By McCarton Ackerman 06/10/16

Though the drug monitoring programs have proven effective, only 53% of doctors are taking advantage of them.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Reduce Opioid Prescriptions By 30%

A new study confirms that prescription drug monitoring programs work, with states who utilize these systems showing a 30% drop in the number of prescriptions written for opioid painkillers.

The findings, published in the journal Health Affairs, came from researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. The scientists collected data from 26,000 doctor visits across 24 states that established programs between 2001 and 2010. The 30% drop in “prescribing of Schedule II opioids, opioids of any kind, and pain medication overall” was seen immediately after launching the prescription drug monitoring programs, and then maintained in the second and third years afterward.

However, they were unable to determine exactly why the programs sparked a drop in these prescriptions.

“It is possible that the implementation of a prescription drug monitoring program by itself substantially raised awareness among prescribers about controlled substance misuse and abuse and made them more cautious when prescribing pain medications with a great potential for abuse and dependency,” wrote the researchers. “It is also possible that knowing that their prescribing was being ‘watched’ deterred them from prescribing Schedule II opioids to some extent.”

Other studies have also reported similar findings. An April 2015 study from researchers at the University of Florida, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found the state had a 25% drop in oxycodone-related deaths since the launch of Florida's prescription drug monitoring program in 2011. Prior to that, the state had been dealing with an epidemic of oxycodone addiction, with rates of death from the drug rising by 118% from 2007 to 2010. The study also showed a reduction in doctor-shopping for prescriptions across the state.

Despite the documented benefits of these drug monitoring programs, many doctors aren’t taking advantage of them. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported last year that despite 72% of doctors knowing that their state’s programs existed, only 53% said they used it. Most cited time constraints or a lack of ease in using the program. 

"It's a useful tool," said Steven Stack, president of the American Medical Association and an emergency physician at St. Joseph East 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."

Those who do use these programs, however, have widely praised them. About 98% of doctors who used their state programs said they found it to be useful, while 75% reported that the program helped them cut back on their opioid prescriptions.

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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.