A disappointing article ran in the Tampa Bay Times last weekend showing that Florida’s touted prescription drug database has been little utilized by doctors and pharmacies. (Several weeks ago, I wrote on the topic about the role of retail pharmacies in the abuse of prescription drugs in Florida.)
Abusers and dealers continue to exploit the cash loophole. By paying for prescriptions in cash, they fly under the radar and usually the only way their behavior will be flagged is if the doctors prescribing their medications first check the prescription drug database, because other systems do not capture the cash transactions. Law enforcement does not have access to the database unless they already have a case opened on an individual; thus, the need for doctors to be checking before they write prescriptions.
But here’s the problem. The database is not being checked by doctors because the doctors are not required by law to do. They are required by to record the prescriptions they have written, but they are not required to check the database before writing a prescription.
“Among physicians in the Tampa Bay area permitted by the federal government to prescribe these potent drugs, fewer than one in 12 has ever used the database.”
Florida physicians are not alone in their resistance to a drug monitoring database. “There are a fair number of doctors who really feel they can tell what their patients are doing just by having a conversation with them,” said David Hopkins, project manager for the state of Kentucky’s database. “They don’t feel they need to check the monitoring program.”
Prescription drug abuse is a rapidly growing epidemic in this country. In 2008, more than 36,000 deaths in the United States were attributed to drug overdose, and prescription drugs were responsible for nearly 15,000 of those deaths (more than cocaine and heroin related deaths combined).
Prescription drug abuse now accounts for almost 30% of the overall drug problem in the United States. A quarter of our teenagers know someone who sells prescription drugs, when only 10% knows someone who sells cocaine.
Attorney General Pam Bondi and many others have taken great strides in the fight against this form of drug abuse but much remains to be done. It is clear that the database is not going to be the answer unless improvements are made to the system.