California’s best tool for ending opioid abuse is underused

The Associated Press

When California is out of sync with the rest of the nation, it’s usually because we’re ahead, not behind the curve. But when it comes to curbing abuse of opioid painkillers, we’re lagging, particularly in our prescription monitoring program.

At issue is the online state database that tracks the dispensing of controlled substances, seeking to prevent addicts from hopping from doctor to doctor to fill prescriptions. It’s a useful tool. But as of last month, only 34 percent of California medical professionals licensed to prescribe or dispense controlled substances, including opioids, had registered to use it.

The deadline to do so was originally Jan. 1. But because of complaints from doctors and hospital systems about having to upgrade their Web browsers, the deadline was bumped back to July 1. There also have been complaints about technical malfunctions with the registration process, making it hard for some to sign up.

Other states are moving ahead with their prescription monitoring programs. New Jersey and Arizona, for instance, are not only pushing prescribers and pharmacists to register, but requiring them in some cases to check the databases before giving patients opioids.

A bill that would require such checks in California has stalled over opposition from the California Medical Association. Yet nationally, the American Medical Association is pushing doctors to start using monitoring programs as part of a solution to end opioid abuse.

The AMA is right. Addiction has reached epidemic proportions, with overdoses claiming more lives than car crashes. Indeed, debate arising out of the presidential primaries in hard-hit states such as New Hampshire led the U.S. Senate to pass a broad drug treatment and prevention bill on Thursday.

Opioids are prescribed twice as often as other controlled substances, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Yet, with drug monitoring programs in place, states such as Ohio and New York have reported huge drops in doctor-hopping patients. Their regions have drawn more attention, but opioids are hurting California cities, too.

The great irony is that California created the country’s first prescription monitoring program, way back in 1939. CURES, short for the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, not long ago required prescribers and pharmacists to fax requests to review a patient's history.

The upgraded, online version, CURES 2.0, is obviously faster and more effective. Physicians and pharmacists should register for it without delay, and efforts should be made to eliminate technical glitches with the registration process. The lives of too many addicts who slip between the cracks are at stake.