Narcotic "double" prescriptions thwarted by Va. database

OxyContin settlement brings cash to thwart duplicating prescriptions 
By Tammie Smith
Richmond Times-Dispatch

RICHMOND, Va. — A prescription-tracking program created to deal with the oxycodone mess that gripped Southwest Virginia is getting millions from the court settlement with drug manufacturer Purdue Frederick Co.

The Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program allows physicians, pharmacists and other approved persons to query a state database of narcotics prescriptions to see if a patient is getting drugs from more than one doctor.

The program was designed to cut down on the ability of people to "doctor shop," or go from doctor to doctor getting prescriptions.

In a plea agreement accepted by a federal judge in Abingdon last month, Purdue Frederick Co. agreed to pay $600 million to the United States, Virginia and others for misleading the public about the addictive potential of its narcotic OxyContin. Officials in Southwest Virginia blamed a rash of narcotic overdose deaths and a surge in drug-related crime on the drug.

Virginia will receive about $60 million from the settlement, and of that, $20 million is to go to the Prescription Monitoring Program.

"It goes into a trust," said Elizabeth Scott Russell, executive director of the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. "The interest on the trust will be used to fund the program. . . . We are not allowed to touch the principal. The way the settlement works, we can draw off interest of up to a maximum of $1 million a year. It will be based on what the program budget is."

The program, which has been operating on $300,000 to $400,000 a year, mostly federal grant dollars, will be able to draw from the trust starting in fiscal year 2009.

Changes were already planned for the program, including software improvements and additional outreach to providers. Planned upgrades will expand access to round-the-clock so doctors working in emergency rooms on weekends will be able to request reports.

"Usage is increasing," Russell said. "We are able to respond to requests pretty quickly. Usually we can provide a report back to a prescriber in a half-hour to 45 minutes."

As of July 31, the program had handled almost 11,000 requests this year --that's almost twice the total number handled all of last year.

The program this year began sending confidential letters to doctors whose patients have gotten multiple narcotics prescriptions filled at different pharmacies. Before, such information went out only when requests were made.

The database can't be used by state police to go "fishing" for cases but can be used as part of investigations where a suspect has been identified.

First Sgt. Harvey A. Smith of the Virginia State Police drug diversion unit said the database has helped reduce time spent gathering information.

"Where our agents would have to spend many, many man hours in pharmacies getting individual profiles on suspects, now we are able to run a report through the Prescription Monitoring Program," Smith said.

The program probably has not been in place statewide long enough to determine if there have been significant decreases in doctor-shopping cases, he said. The program started in Southwest Virginia in 2003 and later expanded statewide.

As of early July there were more than 13.5 million records in the database. Among those required to report to the database are pharmacies and physicians holding a permit to sell controlled substances. Patients 18 and older can request a report of information the database has on them.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is expected to announce this week that the program has received a $400,000 federal grant to make enhancements.

Copyright 2007 Richmond Times - Dispatch 

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