Critical piece to addressing drug crisis isn't ready

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 22, 2015 4:40 AM

(Harrisburg) -- A state system designed to help prevent drug abuse isn't ready.

The prescription drug monitoring program will allow physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals to check if a patient has been prescribed a powerful painkiller recently.

It aims to cut down on what's known as doctor shopping - addicts going from doctor to doctor, complaining about pain to get more pills.

Republican state Senator Pat Vance of Cumberland County, sponsor of the legislation, once thought the system would be ready by the end of June.

But state Health Secretary Karen Murphy says it's been pushed back another year.

"While it may appear that there's a delay, I think it's most important that we really work on the planning so that when we do the deployment of the technology, that we have it in a way that will really benefit all," says Murphy.

She says the state is getting ready to issue a request for proposals, and then an 18-month timer should start.

"When we give that time frame, we're saying not the activation of the PDMP, but we're talking about the complete education efforts of prescribers and dispensers across the state," she adds.

Money to set up the prescription drug monitoring system wasn't included in last year's budget, which played a role in the delay.

Murphy says Governor Tom Wolf's proposed budget sets aside funds to make the system operational.

Murphy says in the meantime, the board putting together the prescription drug monitoring program is looking at best-practices in other states.

She says the Health Department will train physicians and pharmacists to use the new system. Pharamacists will have to check the system each time they dispense certain medications, but physicians will only have to check the system once - the first time they write a prescription for a patient. Murphy hopes, working with professional societies like the Pennsylvania Medical Society, she'll be able to convince doctors to check it more often.

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