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N.H. launches prescription drug monitoring program

Last modified: 10/17/2014 1:11:02 AM
As of yesterday, New Hampshire became the 49th state to establish a prescription drug monitoring program – hailed as a major step toward addressing substance abuse problems plaguing the state.

Prescribers across the state can now begin logging into the system and accessing prescription data for their patients, said the program’s advisory board chairman, David Strang. The goal of the program is to curb prescription drug abuse by allowing doctors and others to see more details about a patient’s prescription history – to detect, for example, cases when patients might be “doctor shopping” for drugs from multiple providers.

It will include data from Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS locations across the state, as well as from about 26 independent pharmacies, Strang said. Most of the data will be updated on a weekly basis, though some participants have elected to send in data every day.

Pharmacies have already been submitting data for about a month and a half, Strang said, and they were asked to provide about half a year’s worth of data so that there was a “usable” amount to work with at the program’s launch.

Though the database is an important tool to address substance abuse, Strang said it’s going to take much more to stem the state’s pervasive drug issues.

“The biggest thing we’re going to realize is just how big of an addiction problem we have and how woefully understaffed we are in terms of treatment facilities,” Strang said. “No matter how much of a problem I see in the ER, in my practice, this is very much like mice in your house – what you see is about 10 percent of what’s going on there.”

New Hampshire was one of 28 states in the nation where heroin-related deaths increased significantly between 2010 and 2012, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who have been prescribed opioids can develop an addiction that leads them to turn to heroin – which is often “more readily accessible, less expensive, and offers a more potent high” – the CDC noted in its report.

Between 2004 and 2010, the number of admissions to state-funded treatment programs for heroin almost doubled, and the number of admissions for prescription opiates increased more than sixfold, according to the New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.

With the launch of the monitoring program, the Granite State joins the rest of the nation, except for Missouri. For the time being, the database will be limited to only licensed officials within New Hampshire, but Strang said it could expand in the future. The ability to coordinate with, say, Vermont would be especially valuable to New Hampshire’s doctors, he said.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who yesterday applauded the database’s launch in New Hampshire, has introduced a law that would encourage such sharing “across state lines.” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, in statements, also applauded the launch of the state’s database.

Health Information Designs – an Alabama-based company that’s provided prescription drug monitoring programs in other states, including Vermont and Maine – is providing the software and technical support for the prescription drug monitoring program. The Executive Council approved a $333,569 contract with the company in June, to be paid for through a $400,000 federal grant from the Department of Justice.

The law that provided for the monitoring program was signed in 2012. Strang, for his part, said he’s been lobbying for this kind of solution for years.

It took until 2006 – when the state’s prescription drug deaths surpassed traffic deaths, according to the state medical examiner’s office – that Strang started to see state legislators give this issue more attention. Ever since, it’s taken continued convincing to get people to understand the issue’s urgency.

“We’ve slowly started to wake people up,” Strang said.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)


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