Will a Prescription Drug Database Help Stem the Tide of Opioid Pain Med Overprescribing?
Opioid abuse may not be running rampant in SoCal like it is in other parts of the nation, but it's still a severe problem. Now, some observers are hailing searchable software tools that let prescribers look up patients' opioid histories as the new solution.
Could these remedies hold new answers, or will doctors over-prescribing of opioid pain meds still be a problem for thousands of Californians and their families? Only time will tell, but taking a look at the data may make it easier to guess what lies ahead for those trying to beat addiction.
Southern California's Opioid Problem By the Numbers
In 2016, all of the ten southernmost counties in California had opioid overdose rates of less than 10 people per 100,000 residents. Prescription rates fell into significantly higher ranges: Places like Kern County received almost 820 prescriptions per 1,000 residents, and San Bernardino County prescriptions reached more than 723 for every 1,000 residents.
Although opioid addiction problems tend to skew towards rural areas, other unique factors seem to play into what's happening in Southern California. Some officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggest that the region's population diversity could have positive effects. For instance, groups like Latinx and Asian citizens are less likely to use pain prescriptions. Research from the American Medical Association reveals that African American and Hispanic patients receive less pain medication than white patients do for various reasons.
These statistics may coincide with the fact that wealthier communities in places like Orange County have some of the highest rates of ER visits related to opioid abuse. Cities like Dana Point, Costa Mesa and San Clemente top the list. Most of the patients who suffer serious health consequences are white males.
Understanding the Prescription Drug Database Idea
No single factor determines whether an individual might have an opioid addiction problem. Still, Southern Californians face issues related to the availability of prescriptions. The prescription drug database concept promoted by a company called Appriss seeks to change this situation.
The idea behind drug databases isn't new. In theory, these tools let caregivers learn about each patient's medical history, past addiction treatments and other indicators before they give them opioid prescription drugs. By assessing risk factors, caregivers who have ready access to such data might be able to stop overprescribing of opioid pain meds.
Can Software Help Solve the Opioid Problem?
Advocates say that the Appriss software is already showing positive results. For instance, some states that use the tool have suspended doctors found prescribing too many opioids. True, some people have privacy concerns, but with the shift to electronic records in all areas of healthcare, the company's storage practices may not be the main problem.
As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out, 40 states rely on Appriss software to monitor opioid prescription drug patterns. Even though it's important that caregivers share the same data, the fact that this information rests in the hands of a for-profit company instead of an accountable government agency may make it harder for places like Southern California to end their health crises. Sure, doctors probably won't have to pay to access their state's Appriss-run databases, but the effectiveness of these tools depends on the company acting in good faith as a contractor.
No Matter Which Tools Prescribers Have Available, They Alone Can't Stop the Opioid Crisis
Even with software that identifies at-risk patients accurately 100 percent of the time, doctors can only do so much to prevent drug abuse. For the millions of patients who are already teetering on the edge of harmful addiction, these changes in prescribing standards might come too late. Also, databases may not address realities like the fact that some doctors have a long track record of prescribing inappropriate dosages for specific pain conditions or being more likely to give pain drugs to some ethnic groups.
Ultimately, those who love addicts need to take action to curb their bad habits. A person who engages in harmful drug-seeking behavior isn't going to let their lack of a prescription stop them from fueling their addictions. They'll just obtain these drugs from someone who has them.
Considering that Americans already consume 80 percent of the planet's opioid supply even though we only have 5 percent of the global population, there's already a massive amount of pills floating around on the black market. Hoping that doctors will someday solve everything with better prescription practices is an unlikely strategy. Instead, Californians will have to take immediate action to get their loved ones the addiction help they need.