CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the Patrick Street Drug Emporium, it takes a pharmacist just a few clicks on the computer to spot a potential "doctor shopper."
Did the person visit multiple pharmacies in the past week for prescriptions? Did they rack up a four-month supply of OxyContin in only a few weeks?
The computer will help answer those questions. For nearly a decade, West Virginia has electronically tracked every prescription filled for controlled substances -- those with a high potential for abuse, such as narcotic painkillers and anti-anxiety medications.
If the customer travels to other states to load up on prescriptions, though, the system isn't so helpful.
The state Board of Pharmacy is working to change that. Last month, the board signed on to a national project that will let states share data. So far, nine states have joined the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy InterConnect project, including two states that border West Virginia -- Ohio and Virginia.
Another 10 states are reviewing the program, said Carmen Catizone, director of NABP.
"Hopefully, by the end of the year, we should have about 20 states signed up and ready to go," he said.
The national system is scheduled to launch by July 31.
West Virginia is working to upgrade its software to make the change, with hopes of being ready by late summer or early fall, said David Potters, director of the state pharmacy board.
At Drug Emporium's Barboursville location, people often visit doctors and pharmacies in Ohio and Kentucky, in addition to the Mountain State, said Jerry Leonard, director of pharmacy services for four Drug Emporium stores.
"Literally, they could get prescriptions filled in all three states on the same day," he said, "and no one would find out, as long as they're paying cash."
Another change also is in store for the state's monitoring program. Under a law passed last year, all pharmacies in West Virginia must have Internet access beginning July 1. Previously, some pharmacies couldn't participate in the state's database because they weren't connected to the Web.
West Virginia has been trying to link with other states for years, but technical and funding problems have stood in the way.
The InterConnect program won't cost West Virginia a penny, Potters said.
"That was part of the attractiveness," he said.
West Virginia previously had considered joining a federal program to link state databases, Potters said. That one would have cost up to $60,000 to start out, and only a few states had signed up.