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Originally published January 5, 2012 at 4:24 PM | Page modified January 5, 2012 at 6:31 PM

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Prescription Monitoring Program is worth paying for

Washington's new Prescription Monitoring Program can help reduce overdoses and deaths from prescription drugs. Doctors and pharmacists supported the program's creation and should now support it financially.

Seattle Times Editorial

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DOCTORS and pharmacists have a new lifesaving tool in the state database allowing them to see all of the controlled substances patients get by prescription.

Improved patient safety is worth the estimated $530,000 annual cost of Washington's Prescription Monitoring Program. Doctors and pharmacists have been reluctant to take on the cost, but state lawmakers should require them.

A dramatic rise in the number of drug overdoses and prescription-drug-related deaths underscores the need for greater scrutiny. The state program helps drug prescribers factor in the impact of different drugs prescribed to a patient, see whether a patient is getting the same prescription from other doctors or learn about a change in dosage.

People who hide excessive prescription-drug use by going to different doctors for pain-drug prescriptions would be less able to do so if their prescriptions were monitored.

State budgets are too tight for lawmakers not to hold firm on this. The $11 to $14 annual fee likely to be charged the more than 52,000 dispensers and drug prescribers statewide is a comparatively small cost of business. The goal is saving lives.

While a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found monitoring programs did not lower the number of deaths, overdoses or consumption, giving medical providers all of the information they need seems medically sound.

A more compelling view is the experience of Dr. Daniel Brzusek, a Bellevue osteopathic physician and rehabilitation specialist, who told Times reporter Carol Ostrom about test-driving the new program and quickly spotting a patient violating clinic policy by filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.

Like health-care information, access to patients' prescription-drug history is strictly limited. Police and prosecutors can obtain it for a specific investigation. State agencies that deal with health care — the state's workers' compensation program, Medicaid, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Social and Health Services — can also access the information.

The new monitoring system comes alongside new state guidelines around prescribing painkillers. Strict prescription-drug monitoring and more guidance for physicians treating chronic pain are important responses to the troubling uptick in overdoses and prescription-drug-related deaths.

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