Council: SC can stem prescription drug abuse by requiring doctors to use statewide database

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Requiring doctors to use a statewide database to check their patients' prescription history can significantly stem the rampant abuse of painkillers in South Carolina, a council created by Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday.

That mandate is a key piece of the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Council's recommendations for combatting abuse. The council's 127-page report, unanimously approved Monday, calls for a law requiring all health care professionals with prescription-writing authority to participate in the state's Prescription Monitoring Program, which has been voluntary since its 2008 creation.

According to the report, just 21 percent of prescribers have registered for the program and few of them use it.

Council member Louis Costa, a surgeon, said it's commonsensical to make sure doctors acquire patients' accurate medical history.

"This is the quickest, most effective tool we have" in getting excess painkillers off the streets, said Costa, immediate past chairman of the state Board of Medical Examiners. "It's a break with tradition to mandate this, but we believe the public deserves it."

The report notes more South Carolinians die from prescribed opioids, such as OxyContin and Percocet, than from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine combined. The number of residents admitted to a state treatment program for opiate abuse or dependence has more than tripled in the last decade.

Costa said all regulatory boards that license prescribers — which include doctors, dentists, and advanced nurses — support the mandate.

A spokeswoman for the state Medical Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report points to successes in other states that required database participation.

The idea is not new in South Carolina. Inspector General Patrick Maley recommended it 19 months ago in a report that called on legislators, state officials and the medical community to work together to rein in prescription painkiller abuse. He asked doctors to take the lead, describing high-prescribers as either motivated by money or naively helping "doctor shoppers."

"The cornerstone to start turning the tide on this epidemic is to reduce the excess supply of prescription drugs causing addiction, rather than medical benefit, emanating from the physician prescription pad, both from unscrupulous pill mills and unwittingly naive physicians," Maley wrote in his May 2013 report.

In response, Haley created the council last March, which includes representatives of state law enforcement, prosecutors, health agencies and regulating boards.

In June, Haley signed a law requiring pharmacists to report daily on the controlled substances sold to their customers, ensuring the database is regularly updated. But a clause specifies that doctors and pharmacists don't have to consult the database and makes them immune from legal action for not doing so.

Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, said the database is cumbersome and using it takes time and money. But he said his chief concern was invading patients' privacy.

"If we could just make it a crime to lie to the doctor that you're doctor-shopping and focus the burden on the person lying," said Bryant, a pharmacist. "We're invading the privacy of 100 percent of patients to go to the small percentage of patients abusing the system."

Haley's spokesman, Doug Mayer, did not say whether they governor would support the mandate. Instead, he said Haley is "very proud and thankful" for the council's hard work toward finding solutions to the important issue.

She is expected to hold a news conference on the report later this month.

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