Although doctors and pharmacists say a new law expanding prescription drug monitoring in Massachusetts should help cut down on abuse, they have concerns about issues ranging from privacy to angry customers at the pharmacy counter.
“We really wanted them [Department of Public Health] to undertake some activities to educate the public on this so that it wouldn’t fall solely on the backs of pharmacists to educate patients about the change in the prescription-monitoring program,” said Tom Brown, vice chair of pharmacy practice at the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association.
The new law, which expands the state’s 18 year-old program, adds scores of drugs to the surveillance list and requires pharmacists to send in reports on prescriptions each week. Patients will be required to show identification before they can pick up medicines on the list.
The goal is to cut down on patients who seek the same prescriptions from different doctors and to call attention to doctors who may be writing too many prescriptions.
But pharmacists worry they will bear the brunt of customer anger at the perceived intrusion of the new law.
Rep. Thomas Golden Jr., D-Lowell, a sponsor of the legislation, doesn’t think the new rules will present a problem.
“You have to show ID to get alcohol and for a whole host of issues, like making a purchase with credit card,” he said. “I don’t see where that is cumbersome.”
While this law attempts to collect data in a timely fashion alerting doctors to patients that are “doctor shopping” or getting prescriptions from multiple sources each week, it also attempts to look at doctors that may be over prescribing.
Brown said the pharmacists agree that the state has “a significant problem with prescriptions drug abuse” and want to do their part. But the new reporting requirements will raise their workload.
“Pharmacies are going to be impacted because they are going to have to collect the information on a lot more prescriptions,” he said.
The Massachusetts Medical Society has its concerns, ranging from patient confidentiality and costs associated with implementation to the ability of doctors to navigate a database that will grow to more than nine million prescriptions a year.
“If the physicians themselves are the only ones allowed to do it and their staff can’t do it and it takes 40 minutes to find the data then it’s not going to work,” said William Ryder, counsel for the medical society.
Another potential problem is in how law enforcement will be granted access to the database. Ryder is concerned that doctor patient confidentiality would be violated if a police officer could access information on just about anyone.
“There has to be a balance there between looking at data and looking at individual data,” Ryder said. “I think as it stands now, that if people are acting in good faith, this should be fine.”