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What can states do to help prescription painkiller abuse?

States are critical to reversing the prescription drug overdose epidemic. The following policies show promise in reducing prescription drug abuse while ensuring patients have access to safe, effective pain treatment.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are state-run electronic databases that track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs. The CDC recommends that PDMPs focus their resources on:

  • patients at highest risk in terms of prescription painkiller dosage, numbers of controlled substance prescriptions, and numbers of prescribers
  • prescribers who clearly deviate from accepted medical practice in terms of prescription painkiller dosage, numbers of prescriptions for controlled substances, and proportion of doctor shoppers among their patients

The CDC also recommends that PDMPs link to electronic health records systems so that PDMP information is better integrated into health care providers’ day-to-day practices.

State benefits programs (like Medicaid) and workers’ compensation programs should consider monitoring prescription claims information and PDMP data (where applicable) for signs of inappropriate use of controlled prescription drugs. For patients whose use of multiple providers cannot be justified on medical grounds, such programs should consider reimbursing claims for controlled prescription drugs from a single designated physician and a single designated pharmacy.

States should ensure that providers follow evidence-based guidelines for the safe and effective use of prescription painkillers. Swift regulatory action taken against health care providers acting outside the limits of accepted medical practice can decrease provider behaviors that contribute to prescription painkiller abuse, diversion, and overdose.

States can enact and enforce laws to prevent doctor shopping, the operation of rogue pain clinics or “pill mills,” and other laws to reduce prescription painkiller diversion and abuse while safeguarding legitimate access to pain management services.

Effective, accessible substance abuse treatment programs could reduce overdose among people struggling with dependence and addiction. States should increase access to these important programs.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.