The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly one-third of people ages 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began with prescription drugs. More overdose deaths have involved prescription opioids than heroin and cocaine combined since 2003, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports Governing magazine. Abuse is rampant among the young. One reason is the sheer number of addictive pills out there. Opioid prescriptions have jumped 48 percent between 2000 and 2009. The other is weak prescription drug monitoring programs. Nearly every state has one, but most are not up to the task of tracking the epidemic.
A big issue is technology. To that end, the federal government has set up pilot programs in Indiana and Ohio to improve real-time access to prescription drug information for health-care providers. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is managing the project with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC and Office of National Drug Control Policy. Doctors haven't yet learned how best to utilize the information. “Forty-nine states have monitoring programs in place, but most of their providers and pharmacies are not accessing them regularly because it doesn't fit in with their workflow,” says Kate Tipping of the health technology office. “We wanted to explore ways we could help get that information to providers in real time and see if it can be used to determine if a controlled substance should be prescribed.”