This country is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic as millions of Americans struggle with pain and addiction—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record.

There are many factors that contribute to the increase in abuse, but the reality is, prescription drugs are more accessible now than ever before. Some individuals abuse the system by getting appropriately prescribed medications from friends and family. Others are counting on the fact that providers are not aware of their addiction as they hop from one healthcare system to another to get their fix.

The emergency department is a frequent entry point for drug-seekers, and physicians struggle with knowing for certain whether an individual truly needs pain medication versus those who are abusing drugs; especially in the ER, where professionals face time constraints, there’s not always time to do extensive checking on patients who present for treatment.

But we need to do our part as emergent providers and then remove ourselves from the equation. Integrating prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) data into the clinical workflow can help streamline these essential efforts.

A total of 49 states have mandated PDMP electronic databases, which are used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. This vital information becomes even more valuable when integrated into the electronic health record system that’s embedded with an analytics solution.

This kind of integrated information and analysis gives the provider risk scores for the patient within the clinical workflow. For example, such systems are able to display a color-coded, three-digit score based on analysis of previously collected data, including:

  • Number of providers accessed by a patient
  • Number of dispensing pharmacies serving a patient
  • Amount of drug equivalent units/days supply prescribed to a patient
  • Amount of drug overlay in the patient’s history
  • Current number of active prescriptions for a patient

With just a glance, the three-digit scores help practitioners determine whether closer review of a patient’s history is needed before making prescribing decisions. If further inspection of the controlled substance prescribing history is needed, the provider is able to quickly pull up a report of the data available from the network of connected state PDMPs.

By utilizing these tools, clinicians at provider organizations are able to improve efficiency by quickly identifying potential drug misuse while avoiding unnecessary labs and CT tests. These applications also can increase clinicians’ comfort and confidence in prescribing and dispensing medication and, most importantly, they can improve patient safety.

If we as an industry do our part and get ahead of the epidemic, we can decrease and possibly eliminate unintentional prescribed-opioid overdoses and help save lives.

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Chetak Patel, MD

Chetak Patel, MD

Chetak Patel, MD, is an emergency medical physician in the department of emergency medicine at the University of South Carolina/Palmetto Health Richland.