A special council tasked with finding ways to reduce prescription drug abuse in South Carolina recommended Monday that doctors be required to use a statewide database that monitors their patients’ prescription history.
The Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Council was created by Gov. Nikki Haley to address the misuse of opioid painkillers. According to the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS), 354 people died from “prescription poisoning in South Carolina from July 2013 to June 2014 (including 51 that were ruled suicides). That was more than died from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines overdoses combined, according to a report released by the council on Monday.
The council unanimously supported requiring doctors, nurse practitioners, and other prescribers to participate in the state Prescription Monitoring Program overseen by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The program updates each patient’s prescription history to show medical personnel when a person has received medication. Participation is currently voluntary, but DAODAS director Bob Toomey said only about 22 percent of prescribers are registered, and fewer actively participate.
“In a way, the voluntary nature has not worked,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “The demand (for prescription drugs) is high and it’s relatively easy to obtain. So we’re making it a little bit harder to obtain them.” He said some users or sellers will go from doctor to doctor seeking the same prescription so they can later sell the pills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 102 painkiller prescriptions per every 100 people in South Carolina.
The state Board of Medical Examiners, Board of Dental Examiners, and the Board of Nursing have all begun requiring their licensees to consult the database before prescribing medication. Toomey said the report also calls on state lawmakers to put the language into state law, noting similar measures have reduced the number of patients getting medication from multiple prescribers in New York, Florida, and Tennessee, among other states.
The proposed recommendations would not limit how much doctors could prescribe, but would require them to check a patient’s recent prescription history before they do.
State Inspector General Patrick Maley also made similar recommendations in a report last year that called on lawmakers to rein in prescription painkiller abuse. Ten months later, Haley appointed the council. A spokesman would not say Monday whether or not the governor supports the recommendation.
But the Associated Press reports not all lawmakers are on board with the idea. State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, is a pharmacist in his private life. He told the AP that he worries state officials are violating patient privacy rights in order to catch a small number of abusers.
Toomey said another key problem is public awareness and education. He said many who use the drugs legitimately will often keep the medication after they no longer need them. The DAODAS director said that could lead to children or others in the household improperly.