We need to remember the big picture on prescription drug abuse. Nearly 1,000 Kentuckians die every year from drug overdoses. For the most part, they're not overdosing on over-the-counter medications. They're dying from drugs that were either prescribed by a medical professional or were illegally obtained.
In 2011, our prescription monitoring program, KASPER, reported that 219 million doses of hydrocodone were dispensed in Kentucky. That's nearly 51 doses for every man, woman and child in the state. Does any medical professional out there think that's a number that seems appropriate for the medical needs of a state our size?
There's no question that prescription drug abuse is killing our people, damaging our families, and crippling our workplaces. So when a fraction of practitioners complain that new regulations to drive out drug abusers are "too burdensome" on the medical community, I am confounded not only by their immediate rejection of a simple, commonsense step to better track these drugs, but also by their utter lack of a reasonable alternative to curb prescription diversion and abuse.
Some of the complaints are born out of plain confusion or misinformation. Here's the truth:
FACT: Since HB1 implementation on July 20, medical providers are requesting about 20,000 KASPER reports a day. A year ago, it was 3,000 a day. Clearly, a huge number of our physicians are using KASPER, despite the concerns of a few who say it is too cumbersome.
FACT: Since HB1 implementation, 93 percent of KASPER requests are processed in less than five seconds.
FACT: Even if KASPER is down, or can't provide immediately verified information, that doesn't mean the doctor can't prescribe a controlled substance. The regulations were built with that consideration -- and simply state that a provider must "query", or ask, for the report. If the response is delayed for whatever reason, providers can still write any needed prescription right away.
FACT: Each professional board has instituted what amounts to a kind of grace period for providers in the first several weeks of HB1's implementation. That means through Oct. 1, the boards will not take disciplinary action against providers for most errors under the new regulations, in order for the medical community to get used to the new guidelines. It's a smart way to introduce the practices without the worry of reprisal for honest mistakes.
We simply cannot continue the same practices in medicine or law enforcement and expect the number of overdoses to drop on their own, or for doctor shoppers to have an unprompted change of heart. Addiction doesn't work that way.
I know the vast majority of our medical professionals provide thoughtful care for Kentuckians, and that they recognize that prescription drug abuse is a raging terror in our hometowns. Most practitioners are following the law, and I expect we will see tangible results soon.