Many states do not fully analyze data on fatal prescription painkiller overdoses

Published on September 21, 2012 at 10:53 AM · No Comments

Prescription painkillers are responsible for more fatal overdoses in the United States than heroin and cocaine combined. And while most states have programs to curb abuse and addiction, a new report from Brandeis University shows that many states do not fully analyze the data they collect.

Experts from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management systematically assessed prescription drug monitoring programs and found a patchwork of strategies and standards. Their report also outlines best practices that all U.S. states and territories can use to improve their effectiveness.

"An epidemic of prescription drug abuse is devastating American families and draining state and federal time, money and manpower," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Law enforcement and health officials are doing heroic work and, thankfully, this report provides a roadmap to help them further."

Among the study's primary conclusions: prescription drug monitoring programs should shift from a reactive to a proactive approach.

"Being proactive is the key to success in the fight against prescription painkiller abuse," said John L. Eadie, Director, PDMP Center of Excellence at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. "While doctors may routinely collect and report data to a state program that signals where and when prescription painkillers are likely being misused, the program might not share that information with others who can best use it."

"State programs should analyze the data they collect," Peter Kreiner, Principal Investigator of Brandeis' Center of Excellence, continued, "and reach out to prescribers, pharmacists, insurers, law enforcement agents and others who can prevent powerful narcotics from falling into the wrong hands. Where this is already taking place, it has proven to be very effective."

"Good things happen when state prescription drug monitoring programs shift to a proactive strategy," said Dr. Nathaniel Katz, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts University School of Medicine. "Not only can it prevent painkillers from being misused or distributed illegally in the first place, but it can also enable health professionals to identify patients who need help overcoming addiction."

By the end of 2001, the report found that 16 states had authorized the creation of prescription drug monitoring programs; within 11 years that number had grown to 49. Today, 41 states have programs in operation.

The paper identified several practices with demonstrated effectiveness. For example:

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