The opioid epidemic facing our state is one of the worst health care crises California has ever seen.
California hospitals treat roughly one patient every 45 minutes who has overdosed on heroin or prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. In 2014, our 4,395 overdose deaths were the most of any state in the country.
We have lost children – a son to addiction and a son and daughter killed when they were hit by a car driven by a woman strung out on painkillers. We have both made it our life’s mission to stop this epidemic, and we believe a solution is at hand.
Among the most effective approaches to combating abuse is using technology to track a patient’s prescription history. Earlier this year, California rolled out its new monitoring program, but there is no requirement for the doctors to actually check the database before prescribing dangerous drugs.
Senate Bill 482 – scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Business and Professions Committee – would fill this gap. Already approved by the state Senate, the measure would require physicians to check the drug monitoring system prior to prescribing an opioid and annually thereafter to monitor for harmful drug combinations.
By fully utilizing the technology that the state has already invested in, doctors can also make sure someone isn’t “doctor shopping” and receiving an unsafe number of prescriptions from multiple doctors. Based on results in other states, we know this system works.
Similar requirements enacted in New York, Tennessee and Kentucky led to dramatic improvements in prescribing patterns in those states. In recent months, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Ohio and Maryland passed requirements for doctors to check their state database before prescribing opioids. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the many experts calling for mandatory use of prescription databases.
Additionally, Shatterproof recently released a comprehensive report calling on state legislatures to require doctors to use the databases, including 12 best practices for states to use when drafting laws.
We urge the Assembly committee to pass the strongest and most effective bill possible. California has the opportunity to once again set a national standard for effective use of these systems. It will save lives and protect families. Since losing our children, we realized that we could not watch idly as other families were being destroyed. We along with the community and elected officials both in California and across the country must continue to address the prescription drug epidemic that we all face today.
Gary Mendell is founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit focused on ending addiction, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Pack of Danville is a patient safety advocate who helped develop California’s online prescription drug monitoring program and can be contacted at email@example.com.