Chronic pain is a significant problem in the United State — affecting more than 100 million Americans. Inappropriate nonmedical use and abuse of prescription opioid drugs has skyrocketed in the past 15 years. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) survey estimated that up to 25 million people used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes between 2002 and 2011.
A July 2016 National Center for Policy Analysis study, written by Devon M. Herrick, reported the following information: an estimated 80 percent of abused controlled substances are obtained by prescription and legally dispensed to the abuser, an abuser’s friend or a family member. In many cases, opioids are obtained through so-called “doctor shopping” — seeing multiple doctors and obtaining a prescription from each.
According to industry research found in the study, for every $1 in fraudulent drug claims, an additional $41 dollars is spent on associated medical claims — unnecessary physician visits, redundant medical tests, unnecessary emergency room visits and the like. Over the course of a dozen years, from 1999 to 2011, the rate of fatal prescription opioid overdoses nearly quadrupled, from 1.4 deaths to 5.4 per 100,000 population.
The solution to this growing problem: electronic prescribing of controlled substances. Transmitting prescriptions electronically is a way for doctors to directly communicate with pharmacies — rather than handing patients a paper form ripped from a pad. E-prescribing facilitates detection of doctor shopping. In addition, once a prescription for a chronic condition has been prescribed, refills should require less effort by doctors and patients.
Ironically, most doctors have been using electronic prescribing of non-controlled substances for years now. But until recently, federal regulations prohibited e-prescribing of controlled substances due to the perceived risks of drug abuse and diversion. E-prescribing of controlled substances is now permitted in all 50 states.
Conclusion: The mandatory electronic prescribing with tracking of controlled substances is a solution that policymakers should consider. Better tracking and control of opioid drugs will help keep the next generation of potential abusers away from prescription narcotics. Several states have already taken steps to implement e-prescribing to avoid opioid abuse. Many physicians and most pharmacies are already equipped to transmit or receive prescriptions electronically. Let’s get started solving this issue -- now!