Monitoring program tracks overuse of painkillers

TRI-CITIES -- It is an epidemic nationwide, and our area is no different. Prescription drug abuse continues to plague local families. But as KEPR found out, local pharmacies hope to stem the tide of addiction with a new system that tracks potentially dangerous medications.

"It just really controls you and you feel like you can't do anything without having the pain medicine in your system," said the son of a former addict who'd like to be known as "Sam."

It started off as a simple habit. But before long, Sam's father was hooked on prescription meds. Hydrocodone eventually became a way of life and offered a euphoric high.

"It you hit a home run and you just feel like you're on top of the world," added "Sam."

Sam's dad is now a year clean. But many aren't so lucky. The CDC says one in 20 use prescription painkillers like methadone and oxycodone to get high. It's why the state pumped more than half a million dollars into a prescription monitoring program a couple years ago to stop "doctor shopping." That's when people get multiple prescriptions for pain pills from multiple doctors.

"There are many people that like to shop at different pharmacies with different doctors and emergency rooms, so it gives us access to know if they're possibly abusing medications," said pharmacy manager Colette Richman.

Colette Richman manages an independent pharmacy. She says she's only used the program a handful of times, but when she has, it's proven effective.

"If they're cash-paying customers, that's really when we're going to need something," said Richman.

The system allows pharmacists or doctors to enter a patient's name and date of birth, and tracks doctors' names, quantities of prescribed medications and previously-used pharmacies.

"It helps make sure that they're being safe," said Richman.

It's the delicate balance of getting help to those who need it, and cracking down on local over-users. So that family's like Sam's can get help.

"The relationships in our family are a lot stronger now that his mind is clear," emphasized "Sam."

Local pharmacists tell Action News another big benefit to the tracking system is to better inform doctors. Once a patient asks for painkillers, physicians can immediately check that person's prescription history.