The problem of addiction to prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, according to our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, the problem is not limited to the United States. Canada is fighting its own war against prescription drug abuse – and our neighbors to the north may be one step ahead of us in the battle.
Prescription drug abuse is fueled by several factors. The drugs seem safe to abusers because they come through a prescription and are sold at a pharmacy rather than by a street dealer. In short: they’re accessible. And, with more and more prescriptions being written for painkillers and anti-anxiety medications, there exists a glut of these medications among the general population.
Once users become hooked, they often maintain their supply of prescription drugs through a practice known as doctor shopping. Doctor shopping is the practice of visiting several physicians with a similar complaint in order to collect prescriptions for painkillers or tranquilizers. Once obtained, these prescriptions are taken to various pharmacies to be filled and voila — a new stash of drugs is on hand. After pointing fingers at prescription-happy doctors and parents who don’t throw away unused medications, finding a way to halt the growth of doctor shopping seems the best way to stem the tide of prescription drug abuse. Canada seems to have been the first to actually do it.
The impact of a prescription database
A province-wide prescription database was launched in British Columbia back in 1995. Almost immediately the number of unnecessary prescriptions being written began to drop. A prescription database is an online record of patient histories including all of their drug prescriptions. A five year study shows that the database can be credited with a nearly 50% decrease in the number of unwarranted prescriptions being written for tranquilizers and painkillers. That represents a notable impact.
More recently, the state of New York has adopted a real-time prescription database. Called I-STOP, the monitoring system is also expected to put a dent in the number of bogus prescriptions for painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs. There are other monitoring programs presently in place in the U.S. but very few are real-time. Making the information available in real-time could make an already successful program even more so.
In addition to preventing patients from engaging in doctor shopping to feed a prescription drug habit, the real-time database could provide other benefits. Pharmacists who can see exactly what drugs are being sold to whom at various pharmacies will be in a better position to prevent hazardous drug interactions. Law enforcement and medical oversight agencies will also be able to identify which physicians and pharmacists are filling a disproportionate number of these prescriptions. That could hopefully lead to eliminating complicity on the part of medical professionals whenever and wherever it exists.
Canada is heading the charge. Hopefully, the U.S. will not be far behind in getting a prescription database up and running nationwide.