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Illinois gets $3.6M federal grant to fight prescription drug abuse

Thursday, September 10, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by John Russell

As prescriptions for pain medications continue to soar in Illinois, state officials want to improve its prescription drug monitoring program so doctors and pharmacists can keep track of how many pills patients are taking and to prevent "doctor shopping."

The state was recently awarded a $3.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help make the system more up to date and easy to use so doctors can get information faster. The program is voluntary, but the state is hoping more doctors will use it, with the goal of cutting back on inappropriate prescribing.

It's the latest step by the state to address a growing epidemic of prescription medicine overdoses. Opioids, prescription drugs like oxycodone or hydrocodone, contributed to 206 of the 999 drug overdose deaths in Illinois in 2012, according to the state Department of Public Health. Nationally, painkillers are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths, according to the CDC.

Prescriptions for opioid pain relievers increased 26 percent in Illinois between 2008 and 2014, and their abuse often leads to heroin use, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill to provide financial incentives to pharmacies to dispense addictive painkillers in locked pill bottles to deter addicts from gaining access. Under the law, starting Jan. 1, pharmacies will be eligible for reimbursements if they use a bottle capped with an alphanumeric combination for opioids.

Now the state wants to spread the word that the prescription monitoring program can save lives. The program collects information on controlled substance prescriptions dispensed in Illinois, allowing prescribers and dispensers to look at a patient's prescription history.

"However, barriers exist that discourage healthcare providers from using" the program, according to the state's grant application.

One of the most frequent complaints, the state said, is the lag time in getting data on the website. Currently, pharmacies are required to submit weekly reports on all prescriptions dispensed. The state is moving to a daily reporting system, in conjunction with its vendor.

The state is also developing an online system that will identify potential abusers or high prescribers by searching for patients who get medications from five or more prescribers and five or more pharmacies in a six-month period. The state plans to issue reports to doctors and pharmacists identifying high-risk prescribing activity

According to the grant application, the state expects a 15 percent increase in doctors using the program next year and a 20 percent increase for each of the three following years. That could lead to a 10 percent annual reduction in multiple prescribers for each patient, the state said.

Dr. Scott Cooper, an emergency physician at Vista Medical Center in Waukegan and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said he frequently uses the database if he has a hunch that a patient is abusing painkillers.

"Some patients have been prescribed 30, 60, 90 or even 120 pills from different hospitals or practitioners in just a few months," Cooper said. "You can print out the information and show it to the patient and tell them why you can't give them any more. It's incredibly useful, and it would be great to get the word out and get more doctors to use it."

Primary care physicians would welcome a system that is easier to use and more helpful, said Vincent Keenan, executive vice president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians and a member of the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program advisory board.

He cited an example of a patient recovering from surgery or dealing with cancer who is likely to be taking pain medications from several doctors. That patient's primary care doctor needs to know the whole picture to help the patient manage the pain without slipping into an addiction, Keenan said.

"It's a fairly complicated system to manage someone's pain, and physicians need all the tools they can get to keep on top of it," Keenan said.



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