A state program launched earlier this year to address what federal health officials are calling an “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse is off to a promising start, pharmacists and others say.
But that may not be enough to protect it from potential budget shortfalls that could threaten its survival.
Nearly 4,000 doctors and other providers and about 1,000 dispensers, mostly pharmacists, have signed up to participate in the program, known as Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances, or K-TRACS.
From July through September, providers logged into the system more than 35,000 times to get information about the prescription drug histories of their patients. Pharmacists made about 13,000 queries.
The program doesn’t track how many times doctors and pharmacists refuse prescriptions for people they suspect of shopping for powerful painkillers and other restricted medications. But Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, a pharmacist, witnessed a couple of instances last week when she worked a fill-in shift at an area pharmacy.
“I can tell you because of the PMP (prescription monitoring program) two prescriptions weren’t filled that day at the pharmacy I was working at,” Schmidt said. “I believe the program is incredibly beneficial.”
Overdoses involving prescription painkillers like hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin) kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When other prescription narcotics are included, drug overdose deaths now outnumber traffic facilities in the United States, killing 37,485 people in 2009.
In Kansas, deaths from prescription drug overdoses increased from 22 in 1999 to 124 in 2009, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that one in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older — a total of 12 million people — reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes. The illicit use has helped spur a 300 percent increase in the sales of painkilling drugs to pharmacies and health care providers since 1999, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families across America," Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a recent CDC report on the problem.
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