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Health care providers could ward off the government meddling in their practices by voluntarily checking a prescription database.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
A prescription database allows Virginia health care providers to quickly determine if a patient seeking pain medication is possibly addicted and doctor-shopping for more pills. This is particularly important for physicians when treating new patients.
Yet too few providers check patients’ pain medication records. Unless more voluntarily begin to consult the online database, the state might force them to do so. The state Department of Health Professions says only 30 percent of health providers perform the check. This year, the department expects to log more than 1 million requests, quite an upsurge from the 22,156 requests just six years ago, but short of the goal.
The encouraging news, according to Sunday’s news story “Queries to prescription database on the rise,” is that a large majority of health care providers who frequently prescribe narcotics routinely consult the database. This is a prudent practice that not only protects providers from patients who would dupe them, but from government oversight should they be suspected of writing bad prescriptions.
However, doctors, dentists, podiatrists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who infrequently write pain medication scripts are less likely to use the database. Which is unfortunate if failure to discover a patient’s frequent use of pain pills allows an opportunity to intervene to slip away.
Pain medication can be a godsend for patients wracked with pain, and most patients use it responsibly. But the drugs can be addictive, causing the desire for their effects to last long after the cause of the initial pain heals, which tragically leads to substance abuse.
The abuse of prescription pain medications is prevalent in Southwest Virginia, causing 270 deaths from unintentional overdoses in 2011 alone. Advocates seeking to reverse this trend have joined forces, not only to recognize and treat abuse, but to prevent it from happening by shrinking the marketplace. One way is to identify patients seeking more medication than is medically necessary, and advocates view the database as a helpful tool in identifying patients who are addicted or are at risk of becoming addicted.
Educating health providers about the database and showing them the ease of using it might prompt more to voluntarily use the system. So, too, might the threat of compulsion. Though Sen. Phillip Puckett, of Russell County, pulled such a bill over concerns by the medical and pharmaceutical industries, he stands ready to craft a new one.
Given lawmakers’ infectious zeal of late to prescribe how medicine should be practiced, providers instead might wish to practice preventative measures.
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