Minnesota to Track Narcotic Prescriptions

Minnesota to Track Narcotic Prescriptions

This week, Minnesota launched a state database that tracks uses of Vicodin, OxyContin, and other narcotic painkillers with abuse potential. Beginning Monday, pharmacies were required to report data on addictive drugs to the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program. By late March, doctors, dentists and pharmacists will be able to tap into the system to identify patients who get too many habit-forming medicines.

Martiga Lohn of the Associated Press reports that Minnesota joins 33 other states that monitor prescriptions for controlled substances such as amphetamines, barbiturates, and even some diet pills. The state database—funded by a $400,000 federal grant—is expected to track more than a million prescriptions a year.

The aim is to stop drug abusers and dealers from shopping around for prescriptions. By one estimate, Minnesota has more than 100,000 prescription drug abusers.

“It’s not going to prevent all drugstore burglaries, it’s not going to prevent kids from going into their parents’ bathroom and taking stuff out on the street to sell, but it will limit the amount of prescriptions that are written by physicians who think it’s a legitimate health care need and have it turn around and end up becoming a street drug,” said Sen. Linda Berglin, a Minneapolis Democrat.

The database doesn’t guarantee that abusers will be stopped. Although dispensers must file reports for the database, doctors and pharmacists aren’t required to consult it to see if their patient or customer is a potential drug abuser. And no one is routinely going through reports to find abusers. Doctors and pharmacists who do consult the database aren’t required to report patients they suspect of abuse or to withhold prescriptions from those patients.

Patients should see signs announcing the new system, or get information on a handout or receipt with their prescription. Hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and clinics that administer pain medications directly to patients aren’t part of the tracking program.

In Kentucky, which has had a prescription monitoring program since 1999, about a third of health care providers have gotten accounts to look at the state’s database.

Cody Wiberg, executive director of the state Pharmacy Board, said Minnesota’s program is designed to keep prescription data as private as possible: Law enforcement officials will need a court order or search warrant to access the information. Prescribers and dispensers including physicians, dentists and pharmacists will need to pass a Pharmacy Board licensing and identification check before getting access codes to look at the data. Pharmacy employees who work with authorized pharmacists won’t get the codes.

Health care workers can face punishment from their professional licensing boards for looking up data inappropriately. Prescription data will be removed from the system after a year.
Vicodin is likely the most abused prescription drug in Minnesota, Wiberg said, partly because it is easier to get than always popular OxyContin. Both are pain medications.

Wiberg estimated that more than 100,000 Minnesotans abuse prescription drugs based on a state survey. Relying on federal statistics, Wiberg also estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Minnesotans are suspected “doctor shoppers,” who visit multiple physicians and pharmacies getting prescriptions for drugs to abuse or sell.

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