Several states developed databases to reduce overdoses from controlled substance prescriptions, but John Woodrow Cox of the Tampa Bay Times writes not many Florida doctors actually use the state’s year-old system.
His story says, “More than 48 million prescriptions have been written in Florida for controlled substances…. Prescribers, however, checked the database before writing just 2 percent of them.” His sidebar story notes pharmacists also rarely check the database.
John says reporters should start with the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws to get information about drug monitoring projects, state legislation and contact information for each state’s database.
Reporters can’t access the databases directly, but they can get information from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health in their states, he says. Doctors who prescribe controlled substances have to register with the DEA, which will give reporters breakdowns by county for each state, he says.
The Department of Health, which manages Florida’s database, can provide the total number of prescriptions written, and a county-by-county breakdown of users and queries, he says. That information showed the number of doctors who’d registered with the database and the number who used it.
“In Florida, for instance, about 14 percent of doctors had registered with the program, but only about 8 percent had ever used it,” John says. “That’s a significant difference. Reporters should be certain they understand the exact meaning of the figures they’re given.”
Reporters also should understand the figures when assessing the databases’ effectiveness, which is determined by the death toll, John says. Reporters should ask: Do the numbers include both accidental overdoses and intentional? Was the prescription drug merely in the person’s system, or did it cause the death? Is there a uniform process to help medical examiners make those determinations?
“Portraying the epidemic accurately can be tricky,” he says. “It’s essential that reporters complete their due diligence.”