NJ.com: Opinion: Require prescription drug monitoring in New Jersey
on July 30, 2014 at 5:11 AM, updated July 30, 2014 at 5:13 AM
By Steve and Elaine Pozycki
The prescription drug abuse epidemic and its related explosion of heroin addiction continue apace in New Jersey. We read about the human cost in ruined lives and premature deaths in our newspapers every day. As bills are beginning to be introduced in the General Assembly and a policy response to this acknowledged epidemic is forming, now is not the time for half-measures. To solve this difficult problem requires a comprehensive approach that matches the scale of the epidemic and puts prevention first.
This starts with requiring all prescribers and pharmacies to participate in our state’s now voluntary prescription monitoring program. We know from our experience in New Jersey and the experiences in other states that have experimented with voluntary programs that they simply do not get enough participation to be effective.
States such as New York and Florida that have moved to a mandatory system are already achieving great results. In New York, the implementation of I-STOP, the state’s System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, has led to a 75 percent decrease in doctor shopping, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, commissioner of the state’s health department. In Florida, the mandatory approach is credited with a notable decline in overdoses.
New York state’s I-STOP program provides an effective and innovative model that New Jersey should emulate. Its major provisions include making a patient’s complete controlled substance history available to prescribers and pharmacists; requiring real-time input into the database of all prescriptions when they are dispensed; mandating that prescribers check the database before prescribing a controlled substance, and requiring that all prescriptions be submitted by the physician directly to the pharmacist electronically, eliminating easily forged paper prescriptions.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) has introduced legislation that includes most of these provisions. But even before it has gotten out of the gate, there have already been attempts to weaken it. It is important to note that these mandatory requirements are not a way to punish doctors. They are simply the only way to give doctors, pharmacies and law enforcement the real-time information and tools needed to stop people who are struggling with addiction from “doctor shopping” in order to obtain prescriptions when there is no medical need and to shut down the small number of doctors who are deliberately abusing the system for profit at the expense of their patients’ health.
Another measure that is critical is requiring prescribers to inform patients verbally about non-addictive alternative pain relief options to opioids. It is particularly important for parents to be informed about these alternatives and to be explicitly notified when potentially addictive prescription painkillers are being prescribed to one of their children.
As “Scenes from an Epidemic,’’ a state of New Jersey Commission on Investigation (SCI) report, richly documents, the largely unchecked over-prescribing of opioid pain relievers combined with the inexpensive availability of the original “opiate,” heroin, created the huge public health and law-enforcement problem New Jersey now faces. Now is the time to put proven and effective policies in place, beginning with mandatory prescription monitoring. In the parlance of the day, it’s a “no-brainer.”
Steve and Elaine Pozycki serve on the board of trustees of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.