Guest Article: Fight Prescription Drug Abuse
By Dave Bowen
One pill can kill.
Prescription drug abuse is the most threatening substance abuse issue in the State of Florida. According to the 2010 Florida Medical Examiners Commission Report on Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons, prescription medications such as Benzodiazepines and Oxycodone, Methadone, Morphine and Hydrocodone caused the most deaths of drugs tracked by this report. The report also identified that 2,710 of the individuals died with at least one prescription drug in their system that was identified as the cause of death.
Florida is widely recognized as “ground zero” for what has become a national prescription drug abuse epidemic, with states as far as Maine suffering the consequences of the overprescribing of prescription drugs in Florida.
Florida accounts for 89 percent of all the Oxycodone sold nationwide last year. A very high percentage of the access to Oxycodone came from “pill mills,” which are cash-only convenience stores for painkillers, often advertised as pain-management clinics. Not only are drug-seekers flocking to our state, but the illegal operations of these pill mills also impacts legitimate patients in need of specialized treatment from true Pain Management physicians.
In an effort to thwart individuals who “doctor shop” and hop from pharmacy to pharmacy, filling multiple prescriptions for powerful narcotics, the Florida Legislature in 2009 approved the creation of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (“PDMP”) database. This initiative encourages safer prescribing of medications and reduces drug abuse and diversion in the state, while complying with federal health-care privacy law. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi hailed the program as “another step forward in Florida’s fight against prescription drug abuse.”
When tough economic times prohibited state funding for the database, the Legislature authorized fundraising through a Direct Support Organization (“DSO”), leading to the creation of Florida’s PDMP Foundation. The PDMP Foundation board of directors includes a county sheriff, a former director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and representatives from the business community. Having spent the majority of my career in healthcare, I was excited to give back to the citizens of Florida by serving as Florida’s PDMP Foundation chairman.
The PDMP Foundation received nearly $500,000 in start-up contributions. Aegis PainComp Testing Services, Millennium Laboratories and Automated HealthCare Solutions were the top funding sponsors. Citizens and law enforcement agencies have also donated to help start the program. The state received additional funding in grants from the federal government and national groups.
The Foundation used this seed money to launch the statewide monitoring program earlier this year. The online database went live in October, giving Florida physicians and pharmacists access to vital information on patients’ prescription histories. In just the first few weeks of operation, more than 5,000 pharmacies and other dispensing locations have entered more than 18.5 million prescriptions for controlled substances into the database. In addition, 4,800 health care practitioners have reviewed patient information in the database. This launch has been the most successful that I know of in the nation, due largely to the support it has received under the leadership of Florida Surgeon General Dr. Frank Farmer and the tireless work of Rebecca Poston, Program Manager and Erika Marshal, Program Operations Administrator.
When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Tampa in late October to speak about Florida’s prescription drug crisis, he noted that Florida, for too long a source of the problem, is now becoming part of the solution, thanks in part to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Holder hailed monitoring programs as among the most effective tools to curb doctor shopping.
Not all of us have had addiction or drug abuse affect our lives that closely. You may ask, “Why should I care about an issue like this?” Whether we like it or not, prescription drug abuse has a far-reaching impact on our communities, and it touches us all in a variety of ways. Two professors at the University of South Florida in Tampa highlighted one of those alarming ripple effects earlier this month: Florida leads the nation in the number of newborns addicted to prescription drugs because of their mothers’ drug use.
The researchers said in a recent editorial for the St. Pete Times that the number of these addicted newborns has nearly quadrupled in Florida during the past five years. The mothers’ drug use increases the risk of slower weight gain and sudden infant death syndrome for these babies.
The news among teens isn’t much better. Prescription drugs have become the second-most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana, among 12- to 17-year-olds, according to the Florida Office of Drug Control. These young people represent our future. We cannot sit idly by and let prescription drug abuse ruin their potential. They won’t be the only ones who are hurt. We all suffer when so many are left behind.
The good news is we have the technology to attack the problem. Doctors and hospitals across the country are embracing electronic medical records as a means to deliver higher quality care at lower costs. Florida’s new prescription drug monitoring program is a wonderful complement to those technological innovations in medicine. The database offers benefits to doctors and patients beyond just preventing the spread of prescription drug abuse. It can help save patients’ lives and improve the quality of care.
For instance, physicians can use the database to carefully review the various medications that are prescribed to an elderly patient. This is a critical issue in a state with so many retirees who have substantial health-care needs. Doctors can use the database to ensure new prescriptions don’t pose dangerous interactions with other medications that already are being taken.
This also can help doctors reduce excess prescriptions that end up sitting unused in medicine cabinets across the state. These leftover pills are one of the biggest sources of diverted drugs. Enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult for 24 hours a day for one full month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies show that the majority of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends for free, often from the home medicine cabinet.
Consider what Americans turned in last month (OCT 29) during the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration collected more than 188 tons of unwanted or expired medications at 5,300 sites across the United States. That helps remove a major source of drugs. But the bad guys aren’t going away, so we can’t get complacent or think our work here is done.
Despite the recent federal crackdown against questionable pain clinics and unscrupulous doctors, officials have still seen a dramatic increase in the number of new pharmacy applications. Law enforcement officials say many of them are likely pill mills that should be denied.
The Florida PDMP is a big step in combating the scourge of prescription drug abuse in our state. But more resources are needed to continue the initiative. The Foundation has set an annual fundraising goal of $750,000 to help keep this crucial database running.
Please consider helping our foundation raise the funds necessary to operate a highly effective prescription drug monitoring program and database. We’ve already sent a powerful message that we won’t tolerate the status quo. It’s imperative we keep our momentum going and find the resources for the battles ahead.
For more information on donating to the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation Inc., go to www.flpdmpfoundation.com or call chairman Dave Bowen at (954) 874-2116.
Dave Bowen is chairman of the Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization. He also is president of Automated HealthCare Solutions in Miramar, FL.