No one can dispute the far-reaching effects of prescription drug abuse and its lethal path to heroin addiction. Overdose deaths are being reported at an alarming rate, and law enforcement officials are challenged with stopping the scourge.
Where it inevitably starts is with painkillers prescribed by doctors that fall into the wrong hands. Thus in Pennsylvania, we welcome the formation of a multi-specialty physician panel to address the problem of prescription drug abuse.
Dr. David Talenti, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Medical Society Board of Trustees, said physicians “should be taking the lead” in advising the governor and legislators about prescription drug abuse.
The group has formed a task force to provide recommendations to the medical community, including the potential to adopt prescription guidelines.
The task force will work closely with a task force previously formed by state officials to advise the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett on the issue.
On the heels of the physicians' group announcement, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last week released new statistics about heroin deaths to illustrate how indiscriminate the drug can be in its devastating effects.
His statements emphasized the role of prescription drug abuse as the “gateway to heroin.”
Prescription drugs are getting into the wrong hands via many different channels, said Michael R. Fraser, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Fraser specifically cited drug dealers, friends or family members who have unused medication in their homes and prescribing physicians as sources of opioids.
“Physicians need to play their role in fighting this crisis,” he said.
We agree, and we suggest that fight go forth on several platforms.
Last fall, the state House approved a proposal to develop a statewide database to monitor the use and abuse of prescription drugs. The proposal is being considered by the state Senate.
The bill would require drug dispensers to provide detailed information about prescriptions of controlled substances ranging from oxycodone and amphetamines to cough medicine containing codeine. The information would include the names of the prescribing physician and patient, the name of the pharmacist or other dispenser, the drug dosage and the source of payment.
It is important that this bill become law as part of an attack on the drug crisis.
Health care providers need “real-time information” about patients' prescription usage to combat so-called “doctor shopping” whereby patients go to multiple doctors or pharmacies to obtain prescription medications.
Also critical is the need for doctors to address pain management with patients as a multi-disciplinary approach not entirely dependent on pills. Better collaboration between the patient and multiple health care providers is needed to insure proper use of medication both opioid and non-opioid.
Doctors and the health system in general must also begin an effort to reduce prescription writing for opioids.
The medical community can have an impact on the drug crisis, and we believe it's time to take on that challenge. By monitoring prescriptions, communicating risk to patients and treating pain with methods other than pills, they can begin to stop this problem where it starts.
We've seen too often and with too much heartbreak where it ends.