The top prescribers of opioid painkillers in Florida wrote far fewer prescriptions for those drugs the year after the state implemented tough new drug policies, a new study reveals.
Two policies aimed at reducing the number of prescriptions for the potentially addictive opioids, such as Oxycontin, took effect in late 2011. One was the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), a database that tracks individual prescriptions, including patient names, dates and amounts prescribed.
This enables doctors to watch for people with multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors, which is associated with addiction and illicit use.
The second measure was the so-called “pill mill” law that requires pain clinics to register with the state and to be owned by a doctor. Pill mills are pain clinics that prescribe disproportionately high levels of opioid prescriptions.
One year after the new policies took effect, opioid prescriptions by the state’s top opioid prescribers fell 6 percent and the total volume prescribed by this group dropped 13.5 percent, the study found.
Among this group of doctors — who make up about 4 percent of opioid prescribers in the state but accounted for 40 percent of opioid prescriptions — the number of patients dropped by 5 percent, the researchers said.
Among the remaining 96 percent of opioid prescribers, prescriptions of the drugs fell just 0.7 percent after the new measures were introduced, the study showed.
“Our findings indicate how state policies such as PDMPs may reduce opioid use among the highest prescribers,” lead author Hsien-Yen Chang, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a school news release.
“But our report also shows that programs like PDMPs must be complemented by many other measures to combat the epidemic of addiction and non-medical opioid use,” added Chang. He is an assistant scientist in the department of health policy and management at the school.
It’s difficult to fully separate the impact of the PDMP and the pill-mill law, but doctors should get in the habit of checking the database before they write a prescription, the researchers suggested.
According to the study’s senior author, Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, “At some point, checking the prescription database before prescribing an opioid should be just as routine as doing a kidney test before starting a new blood pressure treatment.
“I think we’ll get to that point; we’ll see prescription databases used like these other tools and have an even greater impact,” added Alexander, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Opioid misuse and abuse is an epidemic in the United States. An average of 44 people die from opioids each day, the researchers noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines for opioid prescriptions, and every state in the country except for Missouri now has a prescription drug monitoring program, the researchers said.
The study was published online June 2 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about opioids.