One thing was clear to me from last week's Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando. Doctors are a key part of the burgeoning addiction problem, and must be a critical part of any solution. Currently they overprescribe, at alarming rates, medications for purposes for which they were never designed or intended. Opioids, which were generally designed to ease the suffering of terminal cancer patients, are now prescribed for simple toothaches and muscle strains. Even when dosages might only be needed for a day or two, 30 or 60 day prescriptions are commonly written. And finally, even though most states have established Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, less than 20% of physicians bother to access them.
That is why fully 60% of people who abuse prescription drugs get those drugs from friends or relatives. That is why we as a nation consume 80% of the opioids produced in the world. That is why 38,000 people this year won’t live to see their next birthday. We as a nation are awash in prescription drugs, and like it or not, doctors are the gateway to that epidemic.
I heard two separate estimates at the Summit on total prescriptions written for Opioid Analgesic drugs in 2011. One was 257 million. The other was 219 million. Both figures are equally appalling.
It was with this in mind that I read in total disgust of an amendment added yesterday to a PDMP bill working its way through the Florida legislature. HB 831, sponsored by Rep. Mike Fasano, was originally intended to make Florida's now voluntary PDMP mandatory for all doctors and pharmacists in the state. They would be required to check the database anytime a prescription was issued. It is said that the Florida system takes about 30 seconds to check a patient's prescription history. However, “Doctor's Groups” have told legislators that the requirements are too stringent, and they simply do not have the time to check this database in the course of their busy day. An amendment was presented by Rep. Ronald Renuart, a physician himself, to remove that requirement from the bill. The House Health and Human Services committee approved the amended bill with a 16-2 vote, and it now moves forward.
Did I mention it takes 30 seconds to verify a patient's prescription history?
This amendment is a mistake, but it is indicative of a bigger problem. It is evidence of key groups of people who are not acknowledging their part in a greater battle. This is not about writing prescriptions. This is about protecting your patients. Maintaining their health. Saving their lives. The overall view that doctors are “too busy” to invest 30 seconds to help accomplish that goal is terribly disheartening, and speaks volumes about the current state of medicine in this country.
HB 831 does still contain some needed improvements, most notably allowing for a funding source for the PDMP where none previously existed. However, it does no good to prepare the field for battle when the warriors don't believe they need to attend the fight. It is a shame that our medical professionals today are too busy to be concerned with the safety and wellbeing of their patients.