California cutting back on prescription drug monitoring

By Sarah Varney, NPR

This is a story about what can happen when no one is looking. For the patients at Universal Pain Management, a medical clinic in northern Los Angeles County, Dr. Francis Riegler is always looking.

Riegler huddles with the clinic’s nurse practitioner over a computer printout. The one-page report from the state’s drug-tracking system shows that a patient was on the hunt for more Vicodin, a powerful pain reliever that he was already getting from Riegler’s clinic.

California has the oldest continuous prescription-drug monitoring program in the U.S., dating to 1939. It used to rely on carbon copies: one for the pharmacy, one for the doctor and one to be sent to the state’s Department of Justice. The system went online in 1998, and that’s when its full power was realized. Now, Riegler and other physicians can log in and see which prescriptions their patients have filled anywhere in California.

“I think it’s fair to say that we were able to weed out a significant number of people who were either abusing or diverting their medications or hording them where we simply had no idea,” he says.

So alarm bells went off among doctors and law enforcement when California Gov. Jerry Brown announced last year that, for budget reasons, he was eliminating the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which had long managed the prescription-drug monitoring program. Dr. Scott Fishman, chief of pain medicine at the University of California, Davis, is among those fearful that if California’s system closes down, the Golden State could attract pill pushers from around the country.

“The rest of the country is developing prescription monitoring programs, not abandoning them,” Fishman said.

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Comments (4)
  1. Hangs Ups From Way Back says - Posted: April 16, 2012

    This pretty Ironic,I knew a woman who was a total pain abuser,not only that she got two different prescription-drug Viking-tons from the same office from two different doctors at the same time, that do all the aclu’s,broken bone, operation over there by Barton.
    For years she went a little madder each year as time passed,now after receiving Very Large sums Of money doesn’t work anymore, she wants permanent disability but still ,rides a bike,goes skiing,shovels her driveway cause she cheap.Neaver paid back the city on a total remodel loan,how these people get away with it puzzles me?
    I have to say the State and the local doctors must missed something,plus after couple bottles of hard liquor,sleeping pills she was out there ready to do the town up til she falls flat on her face AT THE LOCAL DINERS,BARS,GRILLS.

    I think the pill pushers are part health care, been going on for years,you got insurance, no question asked!

  2. dogwoman says - Posted: April 16, 2012

    People who want to abuse the system will always find a way, no matter how many barriers are put in front of them. It’s the nature of the beast.

  3. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: April 16, 2012

    I agree dogwoman. My question is why does our government continue to coddle people who are intent of self destruction. I believe it is the moral thing to do to help those who need help but I do it personally or through a religious or charitable institution. I don’t believe my government should spend my money in that area. It is my personal responsibility.

  4. Steven says - Posted: April 16, 2012

    I’ll ask again, what street do you live on and are any homes for sale?