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All Hands on Deck


Location: Somerset, KY

It's no secret that throughout the Commonwealth, doctors and other medical professionals are tremendous community leaders, often pulling their weight - the first to recognize a health emergency and the first to produce a remedy. In my region, doctors at Appalachian Regional Healthcare in Hazard and the Pikeville Medical Center were among the first to sound the alarm about the pervasive abuse of prescription painkillers. In large part, it was their call to action which spurred a whole movement in southeastern Kentucky.

We united our community, pooled resources and expertise, and went to work attacking prescription drug abuse from all angles. Law enforcement, counselors, judges, preachers, teachers and parents alike have embraced the holistic, community approach embodied by Operation UNITE. But without question, our doctors, dentists, and health practitioners have been critical partners in these efforts.

That is why I'm baffled by complaints from a vocal minority in the medical community that new procedures in the recently-enacted Kentucky House Bill 1 constitute "enormous extra work [for] the health community." This "extra work," a 30-second check of a patient's recent prescription drug orders, can mean the difference between a reduction in legitimate pain and the abuse of powerful painkillers that are shattering families, spurring lawlessness and destroying lives. This doesn't seem like extra work, but being a team player.

In 2009, nearly 27,000 Americans lost their lives by overdosing on prescription drugs. This epidemic, once isolated in the hills of Appalachia, has taken our entire country by storm -- now taking more lives than car crashes. The alarm is still ringing and the death-toll increasing. Rather than a "not my problem" attitude, this epidemic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, everyone pulling in the same direction, particularly from the medical community, and taking steps to prevent overdoses has never been easier.

For over a decade, Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have been among the most effective tools to combat prescription drug diversion and abuse, bridging the gap between legitimate medical need and potential misuse. Our coveted KASPER system has truly blazed the path for monitoring programs around the country, and the vast majority of medical professionals who already use KASPER agree the program is "important" in helping understand patient intentions and patterns, and to feel comfortable writing prescriptions for patients truly in need. And thanks to modern technology, it's fast. In most cases, practitioners can obtain up-to-date reports on a patient's drug records within seconds.

My colleagues on the Congressional Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus and I have rallied behind federal initiatives that aim to integrate PDMPs into a doctor's workflow and support prescription data sharing across state lines. For example, a pilot project currently underway in Ohio uses software designed by physicians to "score" patients' risk for prescription drug abuse. Another pilot triggers PDMP reports to be pulled along with a patient's electronic health records or upon registration at the Emergency Room. When 12 million people a year admit to using prescription drugs non-medically, running a KASPER report should unquestionably become a part of a doctor's routine.

The doctors in Hazard and Pikeville who sounded the alarm some 10 years ago had clearly taken this to heart, and I invite all members of the medical profession -- those who wield the prescription pads -- to be part of the team, utilize KASPER reports for good medicine, and join us in stopping this terrible epidemic.

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