Like many states, North Carolina has implemented a prescription drug monitoring database to identify people who abuse and misuse powerful painkillers. Now, a new study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the system – which is voluntary – is only used by about one-third of the 34,000 physicians who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency to prescribe controlled substances – and fewer than half of those registered actually used it in the last six months of 2011.
However, at the same time, the number of patients with the most severe drug-seeking behaviors – those who used 10 prescribers and 10 pharmacists within six months – decreased substantially from 217 in 2008 to 115 in 2012, the study found.
Prescription drug overdose kills an average of three people per day in North Carolina.
Nearly all states have operational prescription drug monitoring programs, with the exception of Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, according to the latest research from the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs.
But the effectiveness of these systems has recently been called into question in several states. In Florida, for example, a recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that the vast majority of medical practitioners don’t even use the system, because – as in North Carolina – they are not required by law to check it to see where and when their patients filled previous prescriptions, the type and quantity of drugs they got and who prescribed them.
Since Florida’s system was launched last September, more than 48 million prescriptions have been written for controlled substances — about 2.5 for every man, woman and child in the state — but prescribers checked the database before writing just 2% of them, according to that article.