Prescription Drug Abuse and the Need for Multi-State Cooperation

E-newsletter Issue #86 | Feb. 16, 2012

Prescription drug abuse continues to be recognized as the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.  

The latest “Monitoring the Future” study from the University of Michigan indicated that prescription drugs are second only to marijuana in their frequency of abuse. In Kentucky, the rate of overdoses from prescription drugs doubled among men and tripled among women between 2000 and 2009. In Florida, estimates suggest as many as seven people are dying daily from accidental overdoses. Deaths from prescription drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in 17 states.

“As a pharmacist, I see all too often how damaging prescription drug addiction can be to individuals and families,” said Kansas Sen. Vicki Schmidt, co-chair of CSG’s Health Policy Task Force. “I have witnessed firsthand how drug abuse can tear lives apart.” 

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Drug Control Strategy emphasizes the importance of stricter and more uniform methods of monitoring, directly and indirectly, the prescribing and sale of prescription drugs. These drugs increasingly are being diverted for illicit purposes. In many cases, patients who have legally obtained drugs from their physicians are illegally selling or giving them to others. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 70 percent of misused prescription drugs were obtained from a friend or relative, rather than by more nefarious methods.

The scope of the epidemic led the Obama administration to call for a renewed emphasis on reducing prescription drug abuse. The administration’s ambitious plan, released in April 2011, aims to curb prescription drug abuse by cracking down on doctors who are overprescribing and pain clinics where prescription drugs are easy to obtain—known as pill mills—and requiring drug manufacturers to develop education programs aimed at doctors and patients. The plan also calls for every state to develop a prescription monitoring program and encourages states to begin sharing prescription drug data.

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, 40 states have operational prescription monitoring programs and another eight states have enacted enabling legislation. Despite the advancement of prescription monitoring programs, much work remains. An interoperable system that permits information sharing among the various state monitoring programs is likely to be the most reliable and effective means of assuring these medicines are properly distributed.

“States have an unprecedented opportunity to begin working cooperatively to find a state-driven solution to prescription drug abuse,” Schmidt said. “Above all, this solution must allow states to efficiently share information, while also protecting the patient’s right to privacy.”

One possible solution is the Prescription Monitoring Compact developed by The Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts. The compact is designed to securely facilitate interstate data sharing among state prescription drug monitoring programs, while also protecting patient privacy.  While the compact has not been enacted by any states this legislative session, it has been filed in Kentucky, which is often seen as ground zero in the fight against prescription drug abuse. 

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