Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Sensible drug steps
In our view
In an attempt to combat the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration last week voted 19-10 to place new restrictions on narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin that contain hydrocodone.
The action was taken to address what some have called America's biggest man-made epidemic: prescription drug overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans now die from presciption drug overdoses than from illegal drugs.
Those deaths often are the result of patients simultaneously taking different drugs to combat different symptoms.
Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Steve Diamantoni is aware of the problem. Fully 80 percent of the 78 drug overdose deaths his office investigated over the past two years are attributable to multiple drug toxicity.
Amanda Prusch, medications safety pharmacist at Lancaster General Health, said the FDA ruling will restrict who can dispense certain medications and limit the number of refills a patient may obtain.
That's a start. But it will not stop patients from doctor shopping -- the practice of going from doctor to doctor to obtain medications.
That is why the Pennsylvania Medical Society is pushing for an electronic controlled-substance database that doctors could access to determine what drugs a patient is taking and how often those prescriptions have been filled.
Every surrounding state has an electronic database or legislation that is moving through the system to create one. It allows doctors and pharmacists to view the medications patients have taken and determine whether the patients have been doctor shopping.
Pennsylvania currently has a paper database. But that document is in the state attorney general's office, said Diane Seibert, patient advocacy project manager for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and is available only to law enforcement.
That's absurd. Pennsylvania ranks 11th in the nation in drug overdose deaths at 15.1 per 100,000. Yet physicians and pharmacists, who dispense medications, are denied access to the data.
The FDA decision has the potential to reduce the risk of drug overdose deaths.
The state Legislature has the ability to make it much more difficult for people to shop around for drugs that carry a high potential for abuse.
The medical society previously lobbied for an electronic database, but the legislation never reached the floor of the General Assembly.
If Gov. Corbett and lawmakers are looking to wrap their arms around legislation that not only feels good but does good, creating a database that will enable doctors and pharmacists to better treat symptoms, save lives and reduce this national epidemic is a good place to start.