Thursday, October 1, 2009

Would a nationwide EMR help reduce fatal drug overdoses?

Liz Szabo wrote an interesting article for USA today (scroll down for the link). The focus of her article is how prescription drugs have now become the biggest cause of fatal drug overdoses. The article explains that a patient could travel between states to obtain duplicate prescriptions. A solution for this problem could be a nationwide effort to communicate prescriptions, in other words an interoperable electronic medical records system. Here's an excerpt:
Debra Jones didn't begin taking painkillers to get high. Jones, 50, was trying to relieve chronic pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Yet after taking the painkiller Percocet safely for 10 years, the stay-at-home mother of three became addicted after a friend suggested that crushing her pills could bring faster relief. It worked. The rush of medication also gave her more energy. Over time, she began to rely on that energy boost to get through the day. She began taking six or seven pills a day instead of the three to four a day as prescribed...
"The biggest and fastest-growing part of America's drug problem is prescription drug abuse," says Robert DuPont, a former White House drug czar and a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The statistics are unmistakable." About 120,000 Americans a year go to the emergency room after overdosing on opioid painkillers, says Laxmaiah Manchikanti, chief executive officer and board chairman for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians...
Many doctors say that preventing abuse requires a national effort. Although 39 states have electronic databases to track narcotics prescriptions, none share that information fully with other states, Manchikanti says. So patients who get narcotics in one state may be able to cross the state line to get more.
A nationwide system of electronic medical records also would help, Zvara says, because doctors in different hospitals and clinics would easily be able to measure how many narcotics doses a patient has had.
 Source:  Liz Szabo, Prescriptions are now the biggest cause of fatal drug overdoses, USAToday, Section: Money, p. 8b (October 1, 2009) (available here)

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