Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Massachusetts Prescription Drug Monitoring Program: A Critique

Massachusetts has a problem with prescription drugs in work comp.  Despite its relatively small geographic footprint, the state's doctors prescribe a lot of narcotics.  According to WCRI's report from last summer, Interstate Variations In Use of Narcotics, which studied narcotics use in 17 states, MA had the highest rate of schedule II narcotic usage among cases for which narcotics had been prescribed (for non-surgical cases experiencing >7 days of lost time). 

So I was pleased to read that Governor Patrick signed legislation recently that will strengthen the state's prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).  A strong PDMP program is a necessary tool(albeit insufficient by itself) to help stem the over-utilization of prescription narcotics.

The law (SB 01125) requires doctors to register and pharmacists to report prescriptions to the PDMP.  And at first glace, the law requires doctors to consult the PDMP database before the issuance of a prescription for a Schedule II or III narcotic.  This would make Massachusetts only the second state to require such a step (Kentucky being the other).  A closer reading, however, shows there are nuances to the bill...

The bill reads: "The department shall promulgate rules and regulations relative to the use of the prescription monitoring program by registered participants that shall include requiring participants to utilize the prescription monitoring program prior to the issuance of a prescription for a narcotic drug contained in Schedule II or III to a patient for the first time."

So close. 

I understand the theory here.  If each prescriber must check the database at the outset of narcotic therapy, any previous prescriptions should show up.  But I fear that requiring a single consultation with the database that occurs only at the beginning of narcotic therapy will allow some patients to slip through the cracks.  The law also doesn't indicate what enforcement mechanisms will be available to the department of workers compensation to ensure compliance with the new rules (once those rules are developed). 

One additional note on the bright side: the statute does stipulate that the regulatory approach needs to allow for "licensed support staff" to conduct the database checks.  While I acknowledge that requiring PDMP checks for all narcotics scripts creates costs for the physician practice, I also believe it's in the best interest of patient safety to do so.  Allowing support staff to do that work will at least create some cost savings and efficiencies in doctors' offices throughout the state. 

On Twitter @PRIUM1

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