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State Takes Next Step in Monitoring Prescription Drug Abuse

The Executive Council has picked an Alabama company to begin collecting data that will help physicians and pharmacists identify patients who may be abusing prescription medications.

The five-year contract awarded to Health Information Designs is the next step in the state’s effort to set up a prescription drug monitoring program, or PMP. Such programs are aimed at “doctor shopping,” in which patients visit multiple physicians for prescriptions that are then filled at different pharmacies.

The $334,000 contract will allow for the creation of a secure database that physicians and other providers can access to track prescriptions of widely abused drugs such as painkillers and stimulants.

New Hampshire became the 49th state to adopt a PMP in 2012, although legislators prohibited the use of state general funds for its operation. Last fall, the state Board of Pharmacy, which will oversee the program, received a $400,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice Assistance to implement the program.

David Strang, an emergency room physician who chairs the New Hampshire Prescription Monitoring Advisory Council, said he expects the PMP to be “live” by fall.

All pharmacists in the state are required to submit data to the program within a week of filling a prescription. Medical providers – including dentists, physician assistants and veterinarians – will be required to register with the program.

However, prescribers will not be required to check the PMP before writing a prescription for a patient.

“Part of the very large educational component that we have is to try and spread the word and educate the providers in the state about the program what it can do for them, and how it can benefit their patients,” Strang said. “That’s going to be a big task.”

Patient-identified prescription data will be deleted within six months, unless the patient is suspected of drug abuse or diversion. Police won’t have direct access to the database, although they can access it on a case-by-case-basis with a court order.

State health officials have described the abuse of prescription drugs in New Hampshire as an epidemic. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of drug-related deaths annually quadrupled to 200 - 80 percent of which involved prescription drugs, usually opioids such as oxycodone and methadone.

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan joined with other New England governorsto announce an agreement to explore how states in the region can share data from their PMPs.

In a statement following Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting, Hassan said, “Rising rates of opiate and heroin abuse and overdoses represent one of the most pressing public health and safety challenges facing New Hampshire, and our prescription drug monitoring program is an important tool that will help identify potential prescription drug abuse, help prevent doctor shopping and help ensure stronger oversight of controlled substance prescriptions.”

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