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After first year, drug-monitoring program needs new funds to stay alive

POSTED: July 12, 2014 11:47 p.m.

As the Georgia painkiller-monitoring system became a year old, there is uncertainty as to whether it will be around to see its second birthday.

The Georgia Prescription Drug Monitoring Program went live in May 2013, an attempt to curb the overprescribing of pain medication throughout the state. Now that the system is up and running, Rick Allen of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency said new funding needs to be secured to keep it going.

“The whole system will shut down about this time next year because we don’t have any funding. The federal grant is going to run out, and we don’t have any funding on the state level,” said Allen, the agency’s director. “So the system will basically shut its doors down, if we don’t find some money somewhere.”

On July 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report illuminating a growing problem in overprescription of painkillers, with the Southeast at the top. Writing 143 prescriptions per 100 people, Tennessee and Alabama capped the list. Georgia fared a shade better than its neighbors, ranking 17th with 91 prescriptions per 100 people.

For fiscal year 2011, the state of Georgia received a $400,000 grant for the implementation of a prescription-monitoring program, which took full effect last year.

Allen said the collaboration of law enforcement agencies — including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local authorities — has been paramount in an aggressive approach to controlled substances.

“We all worked together, and everybody brought something to the table,” he said. “We’ve done quite a few investigations and quite a few cases. Some clinic owners have been locked up, some doctors have been locked up, (and) a lot of assets have been seized.”

The database allows prescribers the ability to submit and view patient files electronically.

P. Tennent Slack, doctor of interventional pain medicine with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group in Gainesville, said the system allows prevention of abuse in addition to painting “a much better picture of the patient’s use of scheduled medication.”

“The PDMP gives the physician all the pertinent data to detect someone who is obtaining medications from more than one prescriber and/or patients who are exhibiting a pattern that will be suspicious for misuse,” he said.
By creating a database for pharmacists and physicians, abusers can be spotted with greater ease.

“If one person goes to more than five pharmacies or five physicians getting the same kind of drugs, it will kick out in the system and notify the physician that this is going on,” Allen said.

Allen estimates the number of people going to multiple doctors for painkillers has been cut in half in a year’s time.
The database relies on the accurate input of data, which Slack said has been imperfect at times. While he is a staunch supporter of the system, some flaws persist.

“The system is not error-free. It’s not problem-free, but it has overwhelmingly been of great utility in my practice,” Slack said.


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