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Prescription Drug Monitoring: A Helpful Resource in Your State?

Thursday, July 14, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joy Ingram
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by Kevin L. Zacharoff, MD, PainEDU.org

On April 19th, 2011, the White House announced The Office of National Drug Control Policy its Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plancalling for immediate action to reduce prescription-drug diversion and abuse.

The plan basically outlined a four-pronged approach to the problem consisting of:

  • Education for health care providers and patients, about safe an appropriate use of prescription pain medications, including specifically targeting parents and youth.
  • Improved tracking and monitoring of prescriptions for pain medications, with a primary focus on strengthening and expanding state-run prescription-drug-monitoring programs (PDMPs).
  • Development of consistent policies about proper prescription pain medication disposal, including increasing medication take-back activities and consumer education on safe methods of disposal and return.
  • Heightened enforcement of prescription pain medication abuse, misuse, and diversion by strengthening law enforcement’s role in stopping practitioners and providers who illegally prescribe or dispense controlled substances, which endangers individuals as well as communities.

This article focuses on the tracking and monitoring section of the plan.

According to the White House statement, “Enhancement and increased utilization of prescription drug monitoring programs will help to identify “doctor shoppers” and detect therapeutic duplication and drug-drug interactions.”

PDMPs are often not familiar to clinicians even though they currently exist in more than half of the states in the U.S.

In order for a PDMP to be successful, clinicians need to know:

  • What it is
  • How it works
  • How to determine if it is effective
  • How to get detailed information about it in the state where they practice

The definition of a PDMP, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), following the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL), is a statewide electronic database that collects designated data on substances dispensed in the state. PDMP data are housed in a specified statewide regulatory, administrative, or law enforcement agency. The agency distributes the information from the database to individuals authorized under state law to receive it for purposes of their profession. The DEA is not involved with the administration of any state PDMP 2.

According to NAMSDL, a PDMP has a number of different missions, and is intended to:

  • Support access to legitimate medical use of controlled substances by providing an additional way for clinicians to check patients’ compliance.
  • Identify and deter or prevent drug abuse and diversion by helping clinicians to determine if a patient is misusing a medication.
  • Facilitate and encourage the identification and treatment of people addicted to prescription drugs by helping clinicians to detect evidence of a substance abuse disorder and initiate an appropriate intervention.
  • Inform public health initiatives through outlining drug use and abuse trends in the state and providing this information to policymakers and health care providers.
  • Facilitate education of health care professionals and the public about PDMPs, as well as the use, abuse, diversion of, and addiction to prescription drugs, through state-managed websites and print publications.

As of May 2011, 35 states had operational PDMPs with the capacity to receive and distribute controlled-substance prescription information to authorized users. Thirteen states, one U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia had enacted legislation to establish PDMPs, but they were not yet in operation.

The specific elements of a PDMP currently vary from state to state, and a PDMP’s usefulness may be limited by the following factors:

  • Information may not always be available in real time, which can hinder its effectiveness in a clinical setting, where a patient is presenting for treatment.
  • Difficulties with clinician access, including ease of registration and speed of obtaining information for clinical decision-making.
  • Lack of information-sharing among bordering states, making it possible for patients to get around the system by filling prescriptions in another state.
  • Inadequate dissemination of information about the PDMP, resulting in fewer clinicians knowing about and using the program.

On the basis of experience with existing PDMPs, the question remaining is, do they work? Dr. Aaron Gilson, of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health, states that, “PDMPs have proliferated in the last 2 decades, but only about 10 research articles have been published… Therefore, little is known about the success of PMPs in identifying and reducing doctor shopping.”3

Anecdotal evidence suggests that individual health care providers have found PDMPs to be helpful with clinical decision-making because they provide new, otherwise unavailable information about patients.

If the 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan does result in a PDMP in every state and if states use the data effectively and share information, the goal of decreasing drug abuse, addiction, and diversion is likely to be met.

Clinicians can learn more about their state’s PDMP by visiting the Alliance of States with Monitoring Programs website, www.pmpalliance.org.


  1. Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis. Http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/rx_abuse_plan.pdf
  2. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. Questions & Answers. State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. Http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/faq/rx_monitor.htm
  3. Prescription Monitoring Programs: Do They Work? http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/724487

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