- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

ROANOKE (AP) — A prescription monitoring program that already has more than 2 million records from Southwest Virginia went statewide yesterday.

Now, physicians and law-enforcement officials across Virginia can tap the database to make sure suspected drug abusers are not improperly receiving medication from multiple sources — a practice called doctor shopping.

The practice grew with the popularity in Southwest Virginia of the potent painkiller OxyContin.

Over the past decade, overdose deaths from prescription drugs in the region have more than tripled and now exceed 200 per year, according to figures from the state medical examiner’s office.

The General Assembly created a pilot program that began collecting limited prescription data in September 2003 for Southwest Virginia.

Additional legislation expanded the program to cover all of Virginia and to include more drug categories.

“It’s a tremendous step forward for us,” said Dr. Marc Swanson, a pain-management specialist in Roanoke who served on an advisory committee for the program.

Starting yesterday, pharmacies across Virginia are required to collect information on painkiller prescriptions and submit it to a central database, said Ralph Orr, manager of the program.

With the new system, Dr. Swanson told the Roanoke Times, “We can look and say, ‘Hey, this guy got a prescription in Blacksburg yesterday and a prescription in Christiansburg last week.’”

Twenty-two other states have similar programs, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

About 2,000 pharmacies and other dispensers will collect patients’ names, the type of drugs they were prescribed and the amount. That data then will be submitted to a computer database maintained by the state Department of Health Professions.

In the past, the program had covered only Schedule II drugs such as OxyContin and methadone, another frequently abused painkiller.

With this year’s changes, however, dispensers also will be required to report prescriptions for the less powerful Schedule III and IV medications, which include Lortab and Vicodin.

Initially, there were some concerns about patient privacy.

However, there have been no reported breaches of the systems in any of the 23 states that have them, said Amy Powell of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

Virginia has a number of safeguards.

Patients, for instance, must give consent for their doctors to use the system, and police must have already begun an investigation into a patient before making an inquiry for records for that particular person.

More than 80 percent of the inquiries come from doctors as opposed to police, Mr. Orr said.

Dr. Swanson said most of his patients are willing to have their prescriptions monitored.

“The sad reality is that while these medications are very helpful for the majority of patients, there is a subset of patients who are obtaining these medications for their own dependency and addiction issues,” he said.

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