Combatting prescription drug abuse
True or False:
- Prescription drug abuse accounts for 30% of all drug abuse in the United States.
- There were 584 prescription drug overdose deaths in Georgia in 2009, according to records from the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office. By comparison, there were 86 deaths from illegal drug overdoses.
- The estimated cost to public and private medical insurers of diversion and abuse of controlled prescription drugs is $72.5 billion a year.
- Prescription drug abuse has led to increased crime in our state by creating a high street value for controlled prescription drugs.
- The controlled drug supply normally provided to Georgia citizens for legitimate medical problems is being depleted by abusers, causing some pharmacies to run out of these drugs and being unable to fill prescriptions for their regular, legitimate need patients- including terminally ill patients.
- “Pill mills,” rogue doctors or clinics that prescribe or dispense painkillers inappropriately or for non-medical purposes to addicts and drug dealers have proliferated in Georgia.
- Georgia is one of the last states to implement a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).
If you answered true to all of these questions, you are correct.
As a practicing pharmacist and a state legislator, I have a unique perspective of prescription drug abuse in our state.
In my practice of pharmacy, I see first-hand not only the need and benefit of controlled prescription drugs, but also the abuse of these important medications. That’s why I am happy to report that, after years in the making, the Georgia Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (GPDMP) is up and running in our state. The GPDMP is a program that records and monitors the dispensing of controlled prescription drugs in our state.
After years of trying to pass legislation creating a PDMP in our state, we finally passed SB 36, a bill establishing the GPDMP that I sponsored in 2011.
The program works like this- each week pharmacies are required to transmit all controlled prescriptions that they have dispensed to a secure database that is accessible by pharmacists and doctors only.
Included in the information submitted to the database are the patient’s name, address and date of birth, drug dispensed, quantity dispensed, date dispensed, and the prescribing physician. Once the submitted information is formatted onto the database, physicians and pharmacists are allowed to access only the information for their own patients. Physicians and pharmacists are given their own secure passwords and are not allowed to share them with anyone else, including office personnel.
Great efforts were taken with SB 36 to make certain that patient information is protected in the GPDMP. Aside from following all HIPPA regulations, fines and even imprisonment are called for in cases where an individual negligently uses, releases or discloses information from the database.
For instance, in the case of any person knowingly obtaining or disclosing information from the GPDMP under false pretenses, the penalty is a felony punishable by a fine up to $100,000, by imprisonment up to five years, or by both. Using the information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm also constitutes a felony and is punishable by a fine not to exceed $250,000, by imprisonment for not more than ten years, or by both.
In the few weeks that the GPDMP has been up and running, huge dividends have already been seen. Patients seeing multiple doctors and using multiple pharmacies have been identified by doctors and pharmacists, and appropriate action taken.
Controlled prescription drugs are an important part of medical care for legitimate patients and provide a great resource for their therapy. We are fortunate to have these drugs available and, when used properly, they offer patients the ability to function and improve their quality of life. However, the abuse of these drugs is a growing problem in our state and in our nation.
While the GPDMP may not be the silver bullet to resolve this issue entirely, it will be a useful tool in combating this epidemic.
(Buddy Carter is a Georgia state senator representing District 1)