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Virginia and the military start sharing prescription details to prevent opioid abuse

Pills. (MaxPixel/Released)

Virginia doctors using a statewide drug monitoring program now can see whether their patients have gotten prescriptions — including for opioids, benzodiazepines and stimulants — filled at military hospitals and clinics.

Though the prescription painkiller epidemic has raged for years, the U.S. Department of Defense just launched its own system in December for controlled substances and how they’re given to military patients. The program tracks quantities and strengths of medications.

With the Virginia and military systems connected, officials said doctors and pharmacists have a more complete picture of patients’ prescription histories. Having such information could prevent the over-prescribing of addictive drugs and dangerous drug combinations, they say.

Police and medical licensing boards also can use the data to support investigations into doctor shopping and other criminal activity.

Though several other states and Puerto Rico have followed suit, Virginia was the first to go “live” with its connection to the military’s electronic database, said Diane Powers, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health Professions. The state was eager to lead the pack, officials said, because it has the third-largest military population.

David Bobb, chief of the Defense Health Agency’s pharmacy operations, said the department has been wanting to help states in their fight against the opioid crisis for a while, but there were challenges. Each state has its own regulations for its prescription monitoring program, and some have had to take a closer look at their policies to make sure sharing the information is legal.

The department also has had security concerns.

“We didn’t want to share it in such a way that an enemy could get tipped off that … maybe there’s going to be a movement of personnel or something like that. It took a while to come up with a solution,” Bobb said, “and that’s why I think … we were a little bit behind times in making this operation.”

Prior to launching the military’s electronic database, department officials kept an eye on their own prescribers and pharmacists internally. They could monitor when patients received controlled substances at military treatment facilities and through its mail-order program.

But they didn’t know if a patient went to a retail pharmacy and paid cash. Connecting with state programs gives the department that capability.

Ralph Orr, director of Virginia’s program, said in a news release that the additional information will “help save more lives.”

The state’s database connects with 32 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. In January, it began communicating with North Carolina’s system, joining the program with all neighboring states.


© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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