Category Prevention

The Promising Impact of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

By: Ryan Mutter, PhD, Lead, Health Economics and Financing Team; Mir M. Ali, PhD, Health Economist, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ); Lisa Patton, PhD, Director, Division of Evaluation, Analysis and Quality, CBHSQ

In the United States, non-medical prescription opioid use is a major public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that opioids, including prescription medications and heroin, killed more than 30,000 Americans in 2015. Almost half of those deaths involved prescription medication. To address this crisis, states have exercised a number of strategies to prevent prescription drug overdose. Prescription drug monitoring programs have evolved as an effective tool to safeguard public health and safety while supporting the appropriate use of controlled substances, including opioids. A recent studyExternal Web Site Policy by SAMHSA found that prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are effective in preventing patients from seeking multiple doctors to prescribe them opioids.

PDMPs are state-run electronic databases used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, to patients. In our study of PDMPs as a tool to combat the opioid crisis, we found that the programs reduced doctor shopping, or going to multiple doctors to try to get prescriptions for pain relievers. PDMPs also reduced the non-medical use of prescription drugs by an average of 10 days a year per user. In places where participation in the programs was mandatory, the reduction in non-medical use was even greater.

As of April 2017, 49 states now have a PDMP. There has been some concern that, because the monitoring programs make it harder for people to get prescription pain relievers for non-medical use, those people will turn to heroin instead. We found that prescription drug monitoring programs did not lead to an increase in people starting to use heroin.

Overall, our research encourages us that PDMPs can help curb the opioid crisis by providing health care providers access to patients’ prescription histories and helping to identify individuals at risk of opioid misuse. The monitoring programs will be one strategy in an effort to engage all sectors of the health service system to addresses various aspects of the crisis.

For more information on PDMPs and how they serve as a decision-making tool for providers, please see SAMHSA’s In Brief: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: A Guide for Healthcare Providers.

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