Pennsylvania Officially Launches Statewide Drug Monitoring Program

The new state prescription drug monitoring program enables health-care professionals to address potentially fatal drug abuse and provide improved and streamlined care to their patients.

by Ford Turner, Reading Eagle, Pa. / August 26, 2016

(TNS) -- Every night, after Marty Kendra's pharmacy in Birdsboro has closed, recently installed technology sends information on two or three dozen of that day's prescriptions from the pharmacy to the government of Pennsylvania.

The process is a function of the new state prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP, whose official debut was announced by Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The system collects certain prescription data from all over the state and stores it in a database.

A prime goal is to help curtail the heroin and opioid drug crisis in part by preventing addicts from deceiving pharmacists and buying painkillers at multiple drugstores. It also will give doctors more accurate information on patients' past use of medicines.

"It's a long time coming," said Kendra, owner and pharmacist at Birdsboro Pharmacy. "It is something we have been in need of for years."

Wolf, in announcing the startup of the program, pointed out that more than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died last year of drug overdoses.

"The PDMP allows prescribers and dispensers to query and report information regarding the number of opioids prescribed, and to whom," Wolf said in a statement. "This program enables health care professionals to address potentially fatal drug abuse and provide improved and streamlined care to their patients."

The only prescriptions kept in the database are those containing schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances, as categorized by the federal government. Doctors and pharmacists will be able to query the system as they interact with a patient to see that person's history of controlled substance prescriptions.

Schedule II controlled substances include oxycodone, an opioid pain medicine found in the prescription painkillers OxyContin and Percocet, and hydrocodone, found in Vicodin. Diversion of prescription painkillers obtained illegally has helped feed the growing heroin and opioid drug crisis.

"Fraudulent prescriptions have been a huge problem for us," said Patrick Trainor, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The monitoring system, he said, was a "huge positive step" for the state.

The new database will be run out of the state Health Department. A smaller-scale predecessor system was run out of the attorney general's office.

The law that created the system was enacted in 2014. One initial hesitation of many lawmakers was the potential for incursions into citizens' privacy.

At the time, state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Muhlenberg Township, said that he did not want an "open book" for officials to scrutinize. On Thursday, Rozzi said the crafting of the system and its implementation have alleviated that concern.

"For once, I see this as government being proactive to protect its citizens," he said. "If you are not abusing prescription pills, you are fine."

©2016 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.