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Lawmakers want more doctors to use prescription drug database

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia will soon have more powerful technology to help fight prescription drug abuse, but some state lawmakers worry that not enough doctors are using the tools they already have.

The state is working to link its prescription drug monitoring database to those in other states, in hopes of detecting "doctor shoppers" who cross borders to load up on pills. At legislators' interim monthly meetings Tuesday, state Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Dave Potters updated lawmakers on the project, called the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy InterConnect program.

Since 2002, West Virginia has had its own database, which electronically tracks every prescription filled for controlled substances such as painkillers and anti-anxiety medications. Many doctors do not check it because there is no law requiring them to do so.

"If prescribers don't check it, then it's worthless, right?" asked Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha.

Potters said that was true but cautioned that lawmakers must strike a difficult balance if they want to require more of doctors and others who prescribe controlled substances.

Many doctors' offices are already overwhelmed, he said. West Virginia has a high proportion of residents who get Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and the state reimburses them at a low level to care for those patients.

Lawmakers might want to consider measures that would make prescribers check the database for new patients or in certain circumstances, Potters said.

So far, eight states including West Virginia have signed up for the national data-sharing program. Nearly 20 others plan to join the electronic hub.

Potters also explained that some states take a "proactive" approach to prescription drug monitoring programs. Those states use their databases to flag patterns of unusual prescribing and potential doctor shopping.

West Virginia's system is not proactive. Police and the state medical and pharmacy boards only can access the system during open investigations.

The medical community believes that more providers need to use the database, but a "one-size-fits-all mandate" is not the solution, said state Sen. Evan Jenkins, a Cabell County Democrat who is also executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association.

Jenkins sponsored legislation that went into effect this month, requiring all pharmacies to have Internet access so their staff can check the state database.  

"There's no question we're moving in a direction of making the database more proactive," Jenkins said after the committee meeting. "We have come a long way in a couple years. We have a long way to go."

There is a fine line between fighting West Virginia's prescription drug abuse epidemic and burdening people who legitimately need powerful medications, he said.

"Nobody wants the end-of-life cancer patient who's 80 years old and who's receiving high doses of pain medications to get a knock on their door from a law-enforcement agent to find out why they're receiving these medications," he said. Reach Alison Knezevich at alisonk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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