The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to help stem the tide of opioid overdoses nationwide through its public health data collection and reporting, as well improvements to state-run electronic databases for tracking prescriptions.

CDC is “funding an opioid surveillance program collecting timely data on both fatal and non-fatal overdoses so we can pinpoint resources and responses where needed most,” Debra Houry, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

According to Houry, CDC “has been on the front lines” of the crisis ever since it first identified the increase in opioid overdose deaths in 2004, and “since then, the agency has applied its scientific expertise to track the epidemic and develop evidence-based prevention strategies.” Nonetheless, she acknowledged that the opioid epidemic is “one of the few public health problems that is getting worse instead of better,” with drug overdoses nearly tripling over the last two decades.

Debra Houry, MD

Still, Houry testified that the CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) is leveraging emergency department and emergency medical services data to better track and analyze morbidity data. She told lawmakers that the agency is improving public health data collection and reporting to better understand the opioid crisis.

“We have improved reporting of overdose deaths from a lag of two years to seven months,” Houry testified. “As part of CDC’s funding to states, we’ve implemented a program to get more reliable and timely data from emergency rooms, medical examiners, and coroners.”

She also noted that the CDC funds 45 states and Washington, DC, to implement strategies to prevent opioid overdoses and to improve state-run Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) “by integrating into electronic health records and sending reports to providers to protect patients at risk for overdose.”

In West Virginia, Houry said PDMP data is now being used in distributing reports of high-risk patient prescribing to providers and expanding outreach to high-burden communities. “We’ve seen the rate of patients with multiple provider episodes decline by 62 percent,” she added.

In Ohio, Houry said supermarket chain Kroger has integrated its pharmacies with that state’s PDMP—the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS)—and seen a 500 percent increase in pharmacists checking the electronic database.

“These kinds of improvements can literally save lives,” Houry declared.

Also See: States need to share prescription data to combat opioid crisis, finds commission

She also referenced the fact that 21 hospitals are already integrated with Ohio’s PDMP which collects data on prescriptions for controlled substances dispensed by Ohio-licensed pharmacies and personally furnished by licensed prescribers. Ohio law requires prescribers to request and review an OARRS report before initially prescribing or personally furnishing an opioid analgesic or a benzodiazepine.

Further, all of Ohio’s licensed pharmacies—even out-of-state mail order—are required to report the dispensing of all Schedule II through V controlled substances on a daily basis to OARRS, which is currently linked to other states via PMP InterConnect ensuring the transfer of PDMP data across state lines.

Currently, 42 state PDMPs are participating in PMP InterConnect, developed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, and are able to securely exchange prescription data.

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