Virginia database heads off prescription ploys

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ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - The fidgety patient stood a bit too close to the counter at DownHome Pharmacy and chatted a bit too eagerly.

She had no insurance, she said, and would be paying cash for her prescription for Norco, a powerful painkiller.

It seemed “a little sketchy” to pharmacist Tim Lucas, who keeps a wary eye on those who come to his Botetourt County drugstore to pick up their pain medications.

Lucas decided to run the woman’s name through Virginia’s online prescription monitoring program. He soon found that she had the same prescription from two doctors, and that one had recently been filled at a different pharmacy.

When Lucas suggested that he call the woman’s doctor to clear up any confusion, she took her unfilled prescription and made a hasty exit - supporting his hunch that her need for Norco went beyond the scope of medicine.

Lucas believes the incident, which he recounted in an interview, is just one example of how the state’s prescription monitoring program is working.

Numbers released earlier this month by the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which runs the database, show a decline statewide in the number of patients who visit multiple doctors and pharmacies, at least by one measure.

In a practice known as doctor shopping, drug abusers feign injuries or illnesses - or embellish their existing symptoms - to multiple physicians, accumulating enough painkillers to feed their addictions.

“In the past, we know that Southwest Virginia has had a much higher prevalence of doctor shopping and misuse of pain medications,” said Lucas, who is president of the Roanoke Valley Pharmacists Association.

With the prescription monitoring program and other advances, he said, “I have definitely seen that being curbed.”

According to data collected through the monitoring system from 2010 to 2013, the number of people visiting at least 10 prescribers and 10 pharmacies over a six-month period has declined by 73 percent.

Dr. William Hazel, Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources, said the system is helping to keep potentially addictive pain medication out of the wrong hands.

“I applaud the many health care providers who are taking action to keep their communities safe” by using the system, Hazel said in announcing the data.

But the numbers are relatively small, and some say they don’t see much of a dent in the larger problem.

The 73 percent decrease is based on the 298 patients who used at least 10 prescribers and 10 pharmacies during the first six months of 2010 - a number that declined to 81 by the second half of 2013.

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