Prescription drug misuse and abuse remain significant public health problems in the United States.
In Wisconsin, the abuse of painkillers and their relationship with drug addiction have come into focus in recent years as one of the state’s biggest public health issues. Data from the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that about 4.3 percent of Wisconsin adults use heroin or another opiate for non-medical purposes. To curb the abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs, almost every state has implemented some version of a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Nevertheless, studies indicate these programs remain underutilized because they are too time-consuming and do not display the prescribing data usefully.
Wisconsin implemented its initial PDMP in 2013. But after an additional series of legislation targeting opioid abuse was signed into law in early 2016, the state decided to pursue a more sophisticated system – one that supports health professionals’ clinical decision making by bringing their attention to the most critical information in their patients’ prescription history reports.
The new system, called the "enhanced prescription drug monitoring program" or ePDMP, uses sophisticated tools built to bring doctors' attention to the most critical information. When physicians search for a patient's name in the new website, notifications like current opioid dosage levels and potentially hazardous combinations of drugs pop up at the top of the page as large, colorful alerts. The new system also alerts users when a patient may be developing an addiction based. The system is one of the first of its kind to incorporate tools that belong to the realm of "big data" analytics.
Physicians are now legally required to visit the site before ever prescribing opiates. ePDMP presents physicians with a whole new computer-based task to incorporate into their workflow which may add time to the overall process. This scenario is not ideal but it is a step in the right direction. Pharmacists are also required to enter prescription data into the system within 24 hours after dispensing drugs. Numbers would suggest that Wisconsin doctors are already rolling back prescriptions as it is. A recent state report showed that between 2015 to 2018, there was a 29 percent drop in prescription painkillers like oxycontin.
The program is of interest to any government around the world hoping to curb opioid misuse and so-called “doctor shopping".
In the UAE, for example, Tramadol (a legal controlled medical drug used to treat moderate to severe pain) misuse has been a long-standing problem. In 2015, Experts estimated that between 2 and 4 per cent of the UAE population misuse prescription medication and users as young as 12 are reporting to rehabilitation centers with problems.
Judging by the evidence from a report for Brookings Institution, which summarises the latest research, prescription drug monitoring programs can help to limit opioid prescriptions.
If a similar program was launched by the federal government, this may make progress in the ongoing quest to combat drug abuse.