More than 72,000 people in the United States died from accidental drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While it is difficult to quickly pinpoint the exact cause of a fatal drug overdose – prescription drugs, heroin, or synthetic opioids – opioid painkillers are one of the leading reasons. Drugs like oxycodone, hydromorphone, and hydrocodone are responsible for many deaths each year, despite efforts to rein in overprescribing and doctor shopping.
Even if a prescription opioid isn’t linked to an overdose death, there is a good chance that a victim was introduced to opiates by a physician. Deadly introductions to opioids are extremely common, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 80 percent of heroin users first misused prescription painkillers. The reasons for changing from FDA-approved drugs to street-grade heroin vary; but, it often stems from a patient no longer being able to acquire their prescriptions easily.
Anyone living with opioid use disorder – whether they’re still active or in the first 5-years of recovery – knows that in most states it’s more difficult than before to meet the demands of their disease. Why is more challenging? Because practically every state in the country has some form of prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP); many doctors have a better understanding of the disease; and, most physicians are unable to write refill after refill for opioid narcotics. Patients are now receiving smaller, less potent drugs than before and more doctors are determined to taper patients off in a timely manner.
In many cases, not all, patients will turn to the black market to acquire the drugs they desire—narcotics that will prevent painful withdrawal symptoms. However, many Americans still find ways to obtain their prescription meds and use them in dangerous ways.
Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Mandate
PDMPs exist, but few doctors rely on the life-saving tools! Each doctor gives their reasons for resistance, and such reasons vary from state-to-state. Here in California, and despite being the first state to implement a PDMP, the track record of use is nothing short of dismal.
The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, or CURES, debuted in 1997; but, by 2012 less than 10 percent of providers and pharmacists had signed up for access to the database, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation. In 2012, the opioid addiction epidemic was well underway, and Californians were succumbing to overdoses at a staggering rate. Moreover, few doctors were turning to CURES to learn about their patient’s prescriptions, who prescribed the drugs, and which pharmacies filled them.
Given that doctors are in a wholly unique position to identify patients at risk of abuse, or those already showing signs of addiction, utilizing CURES is no longer up for debate. Whether a physician likes the database or not (some have complained that it is hard to use), starting next month use is mandatory, The Los Angeles Times reports. State Sen. Ricardo Lara’s SB 482 goes into effect requiring, among other things, that:
A health care practitioner authorized to prescribe, order, administer, or furnish a controlled substance to consult the CURES database to review a patient’s controlled substance history no earlier than 24 hours, or the previous business day, before prescribing a Schedule II, Schedule III, or Schedule IV controlled substance to the patient for the first time and at least once every 4 months thereafter if the substance remains part of the treatment of the patient.
Stemming the Tide of Addiction With Due Diligence
Despite being around for more than 20 years, the program has had a number of problems that have been addressed over the years. Originally described as “clunky and far from user-friendly,” the system was revamped in 2009 and CURES 2.0 was released in 2016 with a better interface, according to the article. The newer database is far from perfect and can use some improvements; even still, compulsory use of CURES will undoubtedly save lives.
California joins New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee in requiring doctors to consult a prescription drug database before prescribing. According to the article, a 2017 study showed that mandatory use of New York’s I-STOP database in 2013 led to a leveling off of prescription opioid deaths in the state.
California created the first system to track prescriptions of the strongest painkillers, but our state fell behind as the opioid crisis grew,” said state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who drafted the legislation in 2015. “I wrote SB 482 to require that doctors and others consult the CURES system before prescribing these powerful and addictive drugs. This tool will help limit doctor shopping, break the cycle of addiction and prevent prescriptions from ever again fueling an epidemic that claims thousands of lives.”
Opioid Use Disorder Treatment for Men
Please reach out to PACE Recovery Center if you are struggling with prescription opioids or heroin, or your loved one is about to complete inpatient treatment and can benefit from extended care. Relying on a combination of traditional and alternative therapeutic methods, we can help you or a family member enter into a life of recovery from opiate addiction.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.