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Pennsylvania's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Turns One Year Old

Tony Talbot
Last year, Pennsylvania started tracking prescription drugs to help prevent doctors from giving opioids and other addictive drugs to people who might be addicted.

One of the root causes of opioid addiction is over-prescription of addictive drugs.

A major reason it occurs is the practice of doctor shopping — when people visit five or more prescribers in hopes of getting drugs. 

Pennsylvania — along with a number of other states--is attempting to stop doctor shopping by requiring prescribers use a statewide drug monitoring program, which lets them consult a database before handing over opioids or certain anti-anxiety medications.

The catalogue uses doctors' input to track patients who may be shopping around.

If a doctor shopper is identified, they're given an option for treatment — a process known in the health industry as a "warm handoff."

The commonwealth's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program just hit its one-year anniversary, and Acting Health Secretary Doctor Rachel Levine said its impact has been encouraging.

"This has resulted in an 86 percent drop in the number of patients going to five or more doctors or pharmacists," she said.

But Doctor Lauren Hughes, who oversees the program, said a few kinks still remain.

For one, she noted, it's tough to track which doctors aren't fully complying with the program. The department currently isn't sure how many there are.

"We will be tracking compliance with the requirements of the law," she said. "That is most certainly something we are working toward in the future."

Hughes said they're also planning to increase compliance by integrating drug monitoring with general patient records, among other things.

Plus, she said, prescription drug monitoring only became mandatory in January, so there's some expectation use will increase as more doctors adjust to the concept.