State bill would force docs to check controlled substance database

Massachusetts legislators are voting today on a bill to require physicians to check a prescription-drug abuse database before prescribing pain meds. It's part of a larger statewide effort to rein in rampant prescription drug abuse in the state, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The state has had the online database for two years, but only a fraction of the tens of thousands of Massachusetts physicians have registered to use it, the Globe reports. The database was created to alert physicians to patients who might be "doctor-shopping" to obtain opiates and other high-risk prescription drugs.

The bill would require about 30 percent of physicians--those who write a majority of the prescriptions for narcotics in the state--to register with the site by Jan. 1, 2013, with the rest registering at their next license renewal.

Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of narcotics abuse in the nation, particularly with powerful opiates like Oxycontin and heroin, according to WBUR News Service. Hospitalization rates for opiate users, not including heroin, jumped by more than 600 percent from 1998 to 2008, the Globe reports.

For that reason, doctors aren't the only ones authorized to use the database. Public health agencies and law enforcement, too, can access the information to investigate fraud and other illegal activity, according to an Associated Press report.

Massachusetts isn't the first state to take such a firm stance on the issue. Tennessee already has a similar database, and senators there are pushing bills to require physicians to check the database for every patient and to upload prescription information every 24 hours. Also, New York's attorney general recently called for the state to create a prescription-monitoring database.

To learn more
- check out the Boston Globe's report
- get more detail from the Associated Press
- read the WBUR coverage