With addiction to prescription medicines, especially painkillers, reaching epidemic proportions, hospital emergency departments (EDs) are looking for ways to better track and stop patients who demonstrate drug-seeking behaviors, aka “drug shoppers.”
The most recent attempt at curbing addicts from obtaining drugs is using a tracking system that coordinates with the hospital’s electronic medical records to call attention to patients who repeatedly seek prescription drugs in the ED. Pharmacy Times reports that some hospitals use a bright-red indicator in patients’ electronic medical records to highlight repeat offenders.
While drug shopping, or visiting numerous facilities to try and receive multiple prescriptions for the same condition, has been around for decades, prescription drug abuse has intensified over the last 10-15 years, making this issue top of mind for EDs that may not have a complete patient history when delivering care.
In addition to harming themselves, drug seekers pose a danger to legitimate patients in the ED. They often demand immediate care and can become disorderly if ED staff doesn’t agree to write a prescription. This can result in increased wait times and distracted staff.
The Pharmacist’s Role
Without sufficient information about the patient, ED staff may write prescriptions to drug-seeking patients without being aware of their shopping habits. In this case, it falls to the pharmacist to act as a gatekeeper, using a prescription-monitoring program (PMP) to research if there may be a problem. The pharmacist can refuse to fill a script if he/she believes it would be unethical or illegal based on the PMP records.
Although tracking systems are popping up in states such as Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas, feelings are mixed as to whether they will stand the test of time. But for now, it’s a start.
How can healthcare providers ensure liability concerns don’t abolish this new method of flagging drug shoppers? What other methods have you seen hospitals use to fight this problem?