Despite growing concerns about an epidemic of opioid painkiller overdoses, doctors and pharmacies are checking a Colorado registry meant to deter abuse only 10 to 15 percent of the time before dispensing the dangerous drugs, a Drug Enforcement Administration official told the Denver Post. The state pharmacy board said it has no way of knowing how many people check the registry before issuing painkillers, and the DEA said it could not disclose how it is counting. Other medical officials said they are not surprised at the estimate and added they are stepping up education efforts to highlight the database and catch more warning signs from potentially addictive patients.
“Prescription drug abuse seems to be growing faster than any other abuse we deal with,” said Dr. Chris Colwell, chief of emergency medicine at Denver Health. “Alcohol still takes the cake, but in terms of growth, it’s prescription drug abuse.” There appears to be little support for making a cross-check of the database mandatory before writing or dispensing opioid prescriptions. DEA officials said it could take years to tie together various states’ databases to allow doctors and pharmacists to check a full patient history with the dangerous drugs. (Opiates use chemicals directly from opium, while “opioids” include synthetic derivatives with the same effects.) But medical and law enforcement leaders are moving ahead in other areas to attack what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls an epidemic of opioid overdoses, leading to 15,000 deaths nationwide each year.