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Few Doctors and Pharmacies Checking Colorado Prescription Monitoring System

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Doctors and pharmacies in Colorado check the state’s prescription drug monitoring database only 10 to 15 percent of the time before dispensing opioids, according to a local Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official.

“Our diversion folks are constantly out talking to practitioners and pharmacists,” David Schiller, a DEA agent in Denver, told The Denver Post. “We find only 10 to 15 percent are using that system that is in place because they are so busy with other things.”

The newspaper reports the state’s pharmacy board said it has no way of knowing how many times doctors and pharmacists check the system. The DEA said it could not disclose how it is evaluating how frequently the system is used.

Medical officials around the state said they are not surprised by the DEA’s estimate. They said they are increasing efforts to educate doctors and pharmacists about the value of the database. Currently use of the database is voluntary, the article notes. There is little support for making its use mandatory.

Dr. Chris Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health, said doctors need more guidance on prescribing opioids. He said he has seen patients with bone fractures who are prescribed only six pain pills, enough for 24 hours. He also received a call from a pharmacy checking on an order for 220 oxycodone pills, which turned out to be written on a stolen prescription pad. “If we had more standardized amounts” for different kinds of medical situations, Colwell said, “then we and the pharmacies could have those red flags.”

The state’s prescription drug monitoring program requires that the prescribing and dispensing of certain controlled substances be entered into the system. Doctors and pharmacists are encouraged to check the database if they are concerned about certain patients’ drug use or buying patterns. Law enforcement cannot access the entire database to look for patterns of use, but they can request information on individual patients or prescribers with a subpoena.

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