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Research: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Prove Worthwhile in Preventing Opioid Deaths

June 24, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The implementation of state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) was associated with the prevention of approximately one opioid-related overdose death every two hours on average nationwide, according to a new Vanderbilt-led study published in Health Affairs.
 
Indeed, states with the most robust programs saw the greatest reduction in overdose deaths: these states monitored and tracked a greater number of substances with abuse potential and updated their data more frequently (at least weekly). In this study, "Implementation of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs Associated with Reductions in Opioid-Related Death Rates," the authors analyzed mortality data and data on states' prescription drug monitoring programs from 1999 to 2013 to test if programs were effective in reducing the number of opioid-related overdose deaths.
 
Over the last two decades, the sales of prescriptions for opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone have quadrupled. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
As such, in response to the epidemic, many states created prescription drug monitoring programs to monitor high-risk patients and provider behaviors. Today, 49 states—all but Missouri—have such programs, but there have been conflicting data about the programs' effectiveness.
 
In the study, researchers' analysis revealed that states with the most robust programs saw reductions of 1.55 fewer deaths per 100,000 population compared to states without such monitoring programs. "Today, opioid overdose deaths are more common than deaths from car crashes. Our study provides support that prescription drug monitoring programs are part of what needs to be a comprehensive approach to the prescription opioid epidemic," lead author Stephen W. Patrick, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy in the Division of Neonatology at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, said in a statement. 
 
"This work is important not only because it demonstrates that prescription drug monitoring programs can save lives, but also because it shows that there are specific actions that states can take to strengthen their programs," said Melinda Buntin, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University and senior author of the study.
 
Regarding the one state currently without PDMPs, the study authors estimate that if Missouri implemented a monitoring program and other states enhanced existing programs with more robust features, there would be more than 600 fewer overdose deaths nationwide in 2016, or about two deaths prevented each day.
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