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Medicare Considers Prescription Monitoring

Medicare is considering monitoring prescriptions due to possible abuse of painkillers. (cohdra/morguefile)
Medicare is considering monitoring prescriptions due to possible abuse of painkillers. (cohdra/morguefile)
December 14, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Congress is considering giving Medicare the power to monitor for excess use of pain medicines. Currently Medicare 'Part D' administrators don't have the authority to watch for signs that a patient might be intentionally or accidentally abusing opiods.

But Cynthia Reilly, director of the Prescription Drug Abuse Project with The Pew Charitable Trusts, says nearly a quarter million seniors took a potentially unsafe dose for 90 or more consecutive days in 2011. She says the House, Senate and White House are all looking at a plan that would flag warning signs.

"A large number of prescribers, or a large number of pharmacies, large quantities. They then designate a given prescriber and pharmacy for these patients," says Reilly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 16,000 Americans die from painkiller overdoses annually. Reilly says prescription monitoring is becoming an increasingly common way to address the growing problem.

Reilly says more than anything, prescription monitoring is aimed at reducing accidental overdose deaths. She says there is some evidence of doctor-shopping and patients seeking more pills than they need. But Reilly stresses the patients and doctors may not even realize they're doing anything wrong.

"Oftentimes, prescribers don't know that their patients are visiting multiple prescribers," she says. "Patients may not know when a prescription is duplicative or addictive in a way that is potentially harmful."

Reilly says an additional concern is that any monitoring program must be careful to not keep pain medicines out of the hands of patients who need them.

"You may see some concern from other stakeholders, but we know from experience that the programs are structured and they need to be structured in a way that ensures continued access for those patients," says Reilly.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD