New Jersey Tries To End Doctor-Shopping For Opioid Prescriptions

New Jersey is trying to end doctor-shopping for opioid prescriptions by streamlining prescribers' access to medical records, state officials said this week.

The state will spend more than $1.2 million in federal Medicaid money to expand a software service that lets doctors and other prescribers instantly access patients' opioid prescription history to see how much they’re getting and when they’re getting it, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office.

The data is already available through the state’s prescription monitoring program, but most doctors must log in, enter their patient's information, then search the system. Attaching prescription histories to the files doctors already pull up during visits would speed the review and give health care professionals a chance to step in if they see signs of substance abuse, the statement said.

“We are providing hospitals, pharmacies, and other health care providers statewide with enhanced access to a powerful tool to prevent drug addictions from the outset, and intervene before a fatal overdose occurs,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. 

The expansion plan is another prong in the long battle to help those struggling with addiction, many of whom have stumbled during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have said that joblessness, social isolation and stress led to a rise in alcohol use, drug overdoses, relapse rates and calls to state addiction hotlines earlier this year.

In May, Grewal announced that health care practitioners must prescribe the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, commonly known by its brand name, Narcan, to those regularly taking high doses of opioids or combining opioids with benzodiazepines, which include anti-anxiety medications like Xanax.

Various state boards had already proposed similar rules, but the pandemic, combined with a rising number of overdose deaths, led state officials to skip the glacial approval process.

Angelo Valente, executive director for the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, said a more efficient and easily accessible database would be a great help to the medical community.

“It’s a step in the right direction to identify individuals who may be doctor-shopping, which is a major concern,” Valente said. “But also, if a medical professional sees a patient is on multiple opioids, they might be able to help identify a substance abuse disorder and get them help.”

The state Division of Consumer Affairs runs the prescription monitoring program, which collects information from pharmacies on opioid prescriptions and creates a patient record for health care providers, the statement said.

The goal is to improve prescribing practices, cut the risk of patient abuse or fraud and help end the opioid epidemic that claimed more than 3,000 New Jerseyans' lives last year, Grewal said. 

About 175 pharmacies, health systems, hospitals and practices already have instant access to the database, which contains records of more than 111 million prescriptions in New Jersey, the statement said. This includes Hackensack Meridian Health and The Valley Hospital in Bergen County, Summit Medical Group in Morris County and New Jersey Health Care Specialists in Passaic County, according to a Grewal spokesperson.

Grewal said in the statement he hopes to bring about 90% of the state’s health care entities – including smaller providers not yet involved – into the integrated system by the end of the year.

State law requires prescribers review a patient's history only on certain occasions, like the first time they prescribe an opioid to manage pain. Searching for the data also takes time and creates an unnecessary disruption for health care workers trying to see many patients each day, the statement said.

“Our goal is for [prescription monitoring program] checks to become a routine component of health care, like checking a patient’s weight and blood pressure,” said Sharon M. Joyce, director of the office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies.

The monitoring program also contains data from 17 other states and territories that share their data, the statement said.

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