California Legislators: Use Database to Find Doctors Who Overprescribe Painkillers

Legislators at a hearing in California this week called on the state’s medical board to use a statewide database of prescriptions to help find physicians who overprescribe painkillers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“If we are going to take seriously the role of patient protection, then we have to be proactive in determining if there is a pattern of overprescribing,” said Assemblyman Richard Gordon, who co-chairs a joint legislative panel that oversees the medical board.

Critics say the medical board only launches an investigation in response to complaints. Instead, they said, the board should actively seek out patterns of overprescribing in the state’s prescription database, called CURES.

Some medical groups object, saying actively looking for prescribing patterns would discourage doctors from prescribing drugs for legitimate purposes. The newspaper notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as many medical experts, advocate using state prescribing databases to look for patterns of abuse.

The California database is currently used in most cases to pinpoint people who “doctor shop,” going from prescriber to prescriber to obtain multiple prescriptions.

Medical Board President Sharon Levine said doctors in California are prescribing too many dangerous narcotics, which she attributed to required physician training that emphasizes the use of these drugs to treat pain. There is very little medical evidence these drugs work on a long-term basis for most patients, she added. “We do have a physician workforce that we need to re-educate,” Levine said. “In many ways, physicians have been misled by people exhorting them to treat pain.”