A recent report from the state Legislative Auditor's office recommends changing the system so that it can detect warning signs of inappropriate prescribing.
The Prescription Monitoring Program Center of Excellence, a national organization based at Brandeis University in Boston, is encouraging states to use their databases proactively as "a good public health measure," said director John Eadie.
"It's a life-saving issue," Eadie said. "If the data doesn't get analyzed and the data doesn't get out, then the data is sitting in their files. And we know from experience that many of these people [who abuse prescription drugs] are dying."
Policymakers should also focus on helping more West Virginians access a full range of addiction rehabilitation services, said Mike O'Neil, a pharmacy professor at the University of Charleston and chairman of the state's Controlled Substance Advisory Board.
"At the end of the day, even if you turn that doctor shopper away, you still have an addict," he said.
Substance abuse has huge costs to the state's criminal justice, education and health systems, said Michele Burnside, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center.
"A lot of the monies that are going into those systems are actually cleaning up the issues, not preventing them," Burnside said.
Past legislative efforts to fund substance-abuse prevention and treatment through increased taxes on alcohol have failed.
Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.