States wrestle with prescription data to curb abuse

Access to drug prescription databases could curb abuse of pain pills, says a Colorado payer--but the state's pharmacy board is having none of it.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans, along with Colorado Medicaid officials, sought access to the database in order to curb doctor-shopping and pharmacy hopping, according to the Denver Post.

But board members said state law allows access only to those providing direct care or dispensing direct prescriptions, and told both organizations they could not conduct wider reviews, according to the paper.

Another Colorado insurer, Kaiser Permanente, has found a way to use its own prescription databases and electronic health records data to flag patients who may be abusing painkillers.

In January, Kaiser launched a review of every painkiller patient in its database. It created lists of patients with complicating risk factors, such as other prescriptions for anxiety drugs or a family history of dependence and told each of its 900 doctors to meet with those on the list within 60 days, according to FiercePracticeManagement.

Meanwhile, some states, including Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee, are trying to find ways to require doctors to check state prescription databases for potential abusers.

Rules created to protect patient privacy may be frustrating to some, Ned Calonge, former director of the Colorado state public health told the Denver Post. Medicaid officials or others will need to ask the state legislature to change the database rules, he said.

However, he added, the issue should be debated--and it's still possible that the state legislature could consider changing the database rules.

Many of the comments on the Post article support the board and say privacy is paramount.

"The pharmacy board did the right thing in denying this access," one reader wrote. "Right now they say it's to crack down on opioid abuse, but what's next? Singling out people who are using an antidepressant, and cut them off from coverage? Or High blood pressure? Or birth control? No, there's no medical reason why these records need to be open to anyone but the medical [personnel] who are caring for a patient. Period."

To learn more:
- read the Denver Post article