State Prescription Drug Databases Linked in 2011 - Sparrow Law Firm

North Carolina is among the dozens of states that will begin linking their databases of prescription drug users next year. The effort is aimed at reducing abuse of prescription pain killers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives (collectively referred to as “psychotherapeutic” drugs). Prescription drug abuse increased slightly in the South from 2008 to 2009. Nationwide, 7.0 million people over the age of 12 reported using prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the past month.

The federal government has been urging states to participate in the program as well as providing funding. Participating states sign an agreement allowing pharmacies, physicians and police to check suspicious patterns of prescription drugs. A 2006 federal report concluded that the rate of painkiller abuse would have been 10 percent higher by 2003 if the databases had not been in place.

The state’s databases alert physicians and pharmacies to people trying to fill multiple prescriptions for these drugs from several physicians. Both pharmacies and physicians then use their own judgment to decide if the patient is an abuser and should be denied. Law enforcement generally does not get involved with the data until a tip comes in. At that point, the data helps them to establish a pattern of abuse.

Critics of the plan cite potential civil liberties and privacy violations from the data sharing. They also voice concerns that the plan will discourage patients who could benefit from the medications from filling their prescriptions. The databases, they say, provide access to personal information of so many people in order to find the small percentage of people who are abusers. Physicians, too, worry that writing legitimate prescriptions could trigger the interest of investigators.

Each state’s agreement with the federal government respects the state’s laws regarding control of and access to the database. In North Carolina, for example, the Department of Health oversees the information; in Texas, though, law enforcement is responsible.

State health officials reported 826 unintentional deaths linked with controlled substances for North Carolina in 2009. There were only 482 homicides. Nationally, prescription drug overdoses claimed more lives than heroin and cocaine combined in 2007.

Resource: “States Linking Prescription Databases, Fight Abuse” 10/18/10