Data is Key to the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic

With the help of data, Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs are aiding public health officials struggling to battle the opioid crisis.

The opioid epidemic is now a national public health emergency. President Trump’s declaration on Oct. 26, under the Public Health Service Act, allows federal agencies to devote more of their grant money to the opioid crisis.

While the president also called for a massive advertising campaign in the style of the “Just Say No” campaign, he did not announce any new funding for those on the frontlines, leaving entities such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with little room to move.

The ball is now in the state governments’ courts to implement some of the solutions that have already been recommended by the CDC and HHS.

States Tap PDMPs to Monitor Opioid Prescriptions

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) are “among the most promising state-level interventions,” according to the CDC.

These programs are government-run databases designed to track how doctors and pharmacists prescribe and dispense controlled substances. PDMPs help keep track of who prescribes and is being prescribed controlled substances, and they have emerged as particularly suitable solutions to the opioid crisis. According to the Oregon Health Authority, as of 2013, opioids accounted for more than 54 percent of the prescriptions in the state’s PDMP data system.

Some states have already gotten a head start on implementing this program, and the results speak for themselves.

Between 2010 and 2015, Florida saw opioid prescriptions decline in 80 percent of its counties and reported a more than 50 percent decrease in oxycodone overdose deaths, according to the CDC. This follows mandated PDMP reporting of dispensed prescriptions in 2010 along with other interventions. Following a 2012 action requiring prescribers to check the state’s PDMP database before prescribing opioids to patients, New York saw a 75 percent drop in patients seeing multiple prescribers for the same drug.

From these numbers, it is clear that PDMPs are an effective weapon in the fight against the opioid emergency. Congress has been providing grants to support states’ PDMPs so that they can build systems to facilitate data collection and analysis at the state level.

Yet, the program has faced opposition in several states. In April, Missouri became the final state to pass legislation and create its own PDMP after running into several roadblocks from privacy advocates who view the PDMP as a privacy-intrusive program.

One of the caveats of the Missouri bill is that the government can keep prescription records for only up to 180 days. If an addict were to relapse after six months, their information would no longer be in the PDMP and their prescriber would not have any information about their previous prescriptions.

These short time limits have not been the only problem. Some states, such as Alaska, Texas and Florida, do not require immediate reporting of data while other states limit the sharing of data between states. Some states only allow government employees to analyze de-identified data for research purposes, keeping top public health experts and researchers at universities in the dark.

It does not make sense to keep this data out of the hands of the very people who are best qualified to help the government fight the crisis.

Forging Ahead to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic at the State Level

According to the CDC, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose each day, and President Trump’s declaration of this crisis as a public health emergency is a welcome move. However, in the absence of additional federal funding, state governments must lead the initiatives to address this problem.

States should use every tool available to them, and they should use these tools effectively. To that end, states should remove arbitrary limits placed on data to ensure they can use data-driven technologies to help those most affected by the opioid crisis.

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Nov 08 2017