Many Pharmacists Don’t Use Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, Study Suggests

Pharmacist with laptop computer and medication in the pharmacy

Many pharmacists are not using monitoring systems designed to reduce prescription drug abuse, a study of Maine pharmacists suggests. The study found only 56 percent of those surveyed used their state system.

Most states have prescription drug monitoring systems, which are electronic databases that track prescriptions for controlled substances, including opioids. Health care providers can check the database to identify potential cases of prescription drug misuse.

“We have resources to help tackle the opioid epidemic, but we’re underusing them,” said researcher Stephanie Nichols of the Husson University School of Pharmacy, in Bangor, Maine.

Maine has had a prescription drug monitoring program in place since 2004, HealthDay reports. The researchers note that while doctors and other health care providers use the system, it is important for pharmacists to check the database before dispensing opioid painkillers.

“Often, the pharmacist is the ‘last line of defense,’ for patient safety,” Nichols said in a news release. The findings appear in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Opioid painkillers were prescribed to 22 percent of Maine residents in 2014, down slightly from 2010, the study found. Prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone decreased in 2014, while prescriptions for the opioid addiction treatment buprenorphine rose sharply. “I think that’s a positive trend, because we interpret that as an increase in treatment of people with an opioid use disorder,” Nichols said.

The study found 38 percent of women in their 80s had prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Nichols said elderly people have a higher rate of respiratory conditions, which can put them at greater risk for an accidental opioid overdose.

Elderly women were also more likely to be prescribed sedatives known as benzodiazepines. When combined with an opioid, benzodiazepines can increase the risk of a potentially deadly overdose, according to Nichols.