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Arizona Doctors Need to Do More to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

The scary truth as it stands right now, and in this age of an especially potent heroin and opioid epidemic, is the fact that over half of the doctors in Arizona are not signed up for the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program (CSPMP). The CSPMP allows doctors to look up their patients in order to determine whether or not those patients are getting prescriptions for controlled substances from any other doctors in network.

There are two major problems with this in particular:

1) If doctors aren't using this system to look up their patients, then they're not vetting their patients, and they could be adding fuel to the fire in terms of prescribing controlled substances to an addict who is already getting a large supply from their other doctors.

2) If doctors aren't using this system to input information about their patients, then those doctors who are doing the right thing and who are looking up their patients may find no information on them and think they are okay to prescribe controlled substances to when, in actuality, they are receiving these drugs from doctors who simply aren't uploading the information into the database as they should.

Thankfully, this problem has been recognized, and participation in the CSPMP will become mandatory in October of 2017. The Arizona State Board of Pharmacy is presently training Arizona's health care providers on how to register with the database and how to search for and understand the records once they're in there. The system was criticized in the past for being "clunky," but those who were frustrated with the system can now enjoy a more streamlined process, per Kam Gandhi, the board's Executive Director.

Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Phoenix Division, makes the very accurate point that when you consider how many heroin addicts start out as prescription drug users, it is imperative – especially during this current epidemic – that we have an accurate and easy-to-use system wherein we can easily identify who is on what drugs and where they're getting them from.

In 2015, over 400 of Arizona's residents died from overdoses that involved narcotic prescription drugs. The state also set a record, with nearly 240 additional deaths related to heroin.

Some doctors have been using the CSPMP for years with no issues. Dr. Vanessa Tartaglia of North Glendale's Paseo Primary Care Physicians says it's as easy as taking two or three minutes out of your day to look up a patient's information. She said it also becomes easier with time, as you learn to spot the red flags and inconsistencies in people's stories, which alert her to double-checking their information in the CSPMP.

Of course, it's much easier for a primary care doctor to take a few minutes out of her day to learn the database than it is for, say, a doctor working in an emergency room. That is why it is imperative that the process be as streamlined and as easy to use as possible so that physicians can go into it already knowing what to do when the time comes.

The new law will be enforced by the Arizona Medical Board. The board will review whether or not physicians checked the CSPMP in the event of an alleged error or malpractice on the part of another physician. Sanctions can include a letter of reprimand (a warning), probation, or even the revocation of the physician's license.