Overdoses from opioid painkillers cause 300 deaths every year in Colorado — enough painkillers are dispensed in the state annually to provide every adult with one pill an hour every day for 30 days, says the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies.
And now DORA is doing something about it. The agency is taking action by boosting the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and facilitating common opioid guidelines for all practitioners, in addition to expanding access to care.
“Many people think these drugs are safe because their healthcare practitioner prescribed them. But their effects can be just as potent as illicit drugs such as heroine,” said Lauren Larson, Director of Division of Professions and Occupations which houses 28 of the state’s healthcare regulatory boards and programs at the Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Part of DORA’s mission is consumer protection, Larson said. The department has an obligation to help practitioners treat pain while also addressing the prescription drug abuse crisis in the state.
For example, increasing usage of the monitoring program, a statewide database of all controlled substances dispensed in the state which licensed prescribers and dispensers can access regarding their patients, has helped lead to a decrease in doctor-shopping for prescription drugs statewide.
This time last year, the program sent more than 600 notifications to prescribers and pharmacies in the State, alerting them that a patient they treat obtained potentially dangerous amounts of controlled substances from multiple prescribers and pharmacies.
In one instance, a patient obtained prescriptions from 11 different prescribers and 10 different pharmacies within 30 days, amounting to potentially harmful quantities of potent prescription drugs. Another person obtained more than 1,600 pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone from multiple prescribers and dispensers in one month.
In September, the database sent only 228 notifications: less than half the number of “push-notices” sent this time last year. Notably absent are instances of doctor-shopping witnessed in 2014 evidencing undetected addiction and diversion.
The decrease has occurred amid increased awareness and use of the PDMP by prescribers and pharmacists. Overall, use of the PDMP rose to 92 percent, a 74 percent increase over the 53 percent rate in October 2014.
“The number of patients seeking pain management exceeds the number of pain specialists in the state which is why Colorado needs all practitioners working on the same playing field for opioid therapy. This policy educates primary care and other providers broadly with the information they need to achieve the appropriate relief the patient requires,” said Larson.
DORA also sponsored a bill this year that lowered requirements for advanced practice nurses (APNs) to obtain prescriptive authority — a profession that plays a vital role in primary care, serving many rural and underserved urban areas of the state.
“We can’t solve the state’s prescription drug abuse problem alone — nor should that burden fall on the practitioner’s shoulders. The PDMP and Opioid Policy are just part of a multi-pronged approach lead by the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention,” said Larson.