PHOENIX - Nearly half of doctors in Arizona are not signed up for a prescription drug database that could help them cross-reference potential drug addicts. Such databases have been credited in at least two other states for helping to reduce prescription drug emergencies and deaths.
Participation in the system will become mandatory for doctors in October, and the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy is now educating health care providers across the state on how to register and navigate the database.
“We have a staff member setting up seminars for doctors’ groups across the state,” said Kam Gandhi, executive director for the board. “For those practitioner offices that are reluctant or hesitant or think it’s difficult to use, it really isn’t.”
Gandhi said although the system was criticized for being “clunky” in the past, it has been streamlined and is undergoing further improvements this week.
"The goal is full statewide integration," Gandhi said.
The database is known as the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program (CSPMP). It allows doctors to inquire whether patients who want a prescription for controlled substances like oxycodone or Vicodin are getting similar prescriptions from other providers. Health care experts and law enforcement say participation by physicians is especially crucial in the fight against opioid prescription abuse.
"It is hugely important, especially when you consider that 80 percent of heroin users start off as prescription opiate addicts," said Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Phoenix Division.
In the year 2015, 401 people in Arizona died from overdoses involving narcotic prescription drugs. A record 237 additional deaths involved heroin.
Some doctors have been using the database for years without a problem.
Dr. Vanessa Tartaglia of Paseo Primary Care Physicians in north Glendale said looking up a patient's prescription background takes two to three minutes.
“When you’ve been doing this for a while you definitely know how to spot red flags in people’s stories, so I will check their background,” Dr. Tartaglia said.
But every doctor’s office is unique. Emergency rooms move at a fast pace and experience different demands. Integrating the database into all health care offices that prescribe controlled substances is not easy, said a representative of an association made up of 4,000 doctors in Arizona.
“Physicians want the best for their patients,” said Sharla Hooper of the Arizona Medical Association. “But there is a lot of frustration with the system they have to work in … Everywhere we look, there is a massive amount of information and regulation at every point of the patient care process.”
Hopper said many doctors will need to be educated in the coming months about how the database works.
“Education is key,” Hooper said.
Enforcement of the new law will rely on the Arizona Medical Board. It will determine whether physicians checked the CSPMP in cases of alleged wrongdoing by doctors. Utilization of the CSPMP will be one of the factors the board will use in adjudicating a case, a spokesperson said. Sanctions could include a letter of reprimand, probation or even revocation of a license.