By: Karen Murphy, Secretary of Health
The drug overdose epidemic is sweeping the nation and tearing families and communities apart. The United States is in the midst of a prescription drug abuse epidemic as addiction, overdoses, and deaths associated with non-medical drug use have risen dramatically over the last decade. Like the nation, Pennsylvania is in the grips of an unprecedented drug abuse and overdose epidemic.
Each day, at least ten Pennsylvanians die of opioid or heroin overdose. In 2015, more than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died from drug overdoses. Behind these startling figures is the fact that this epidemic is killing our loved ones at an alarming rate. The problem can largely be attributed to the rapid rise in the abuse of opioids, including both prescription pain relievers and heroin.
In an effort to empower medical professionals to identify patients struggling with addictions, the Wolf Administration is launching a new Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).
PDMPs are one of the most promising tools to improve prescribing, combat abuse, protect patients, and save lives. Since the 1970’s, Pennsylvania has had a prescription drug monitoring program, however it’s been run by the Attorney General’s Office and only available to law enforcement. The new program will be run by the Department of Health (DOH) and will now be open to doctors and pharmacists as well.
The new system will allow doctors to view patients’ medication histories and be better informed before issuing new prescriptions for controlled substances. Health care professionals will now be able to check if their patient recently had a prescription filled from other providers. The system will help physicians recognize potentially inappropriate medication use. PA PDMP will work to prevent substance abuse before it starts and help primary physicians identify patients who should be referred to specialized drug and alcohol treatment programs in what is known as a “warm handoff.”
Through DOH, health care professionals are being trained in warm handoffs, in which doctors learn how to provide facilitated referrals that support individuals with a substance use disorder (SUD) and increase the odds of a successful recovery.
By using the new PA PDMP system, health care professionals will play a key role in reducing opioid abuse and overdoses. Physicians, dentists, and providers licensed to prescribe scheduled drugs are required by the law to register in the system. The PA PDMP web portal, PMP AWARxE is now open for registration, with tutorial resources available at www.doh.pa.gov/PDMP to assist with getting started. Effective today, the system will be fully operational and physicians, pharmacists or their delegates will be able to access necessary information to prescribe painkillers safely.
The opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises Pennsylvania has ever seen – but it doesn’t have to stay this way. Physicians and pharmacists can help save thousands of Pennsylvanians from drug abuse and work to battle this epidemic by checking the system before dispensing a controlled substance every time. Regular use of the PDMP will give health care professionals access to critical information to identify warning signs of substance use disorder and empower them to increase the quality of patient care by making sure all patients have access to safe, effective pain management.
As the Secretary of Health, I urge all physicians and pharmacists to not only register for the PDMP, but also to use the system to make more informed prescribing decisions. The most important aspect of the PDMP is to identify those that need help fighting the addiction. It is critically important that all health care prescribers utilize the PDMP in order to facilitate the treatment for patients suffering from substance abuse.
Addictions are taking a tremendous toll on families throughout the commonwealth every day. By working together, we can reverse the trend of increasing overdose deaths and fight back against addiction.