The state has been collecting data on prescription opioids and controlled substances since 2012, but until last month, prescribers and pharmacies have been volunteering that data. As part of an ongoing legislative effort, medical professionals prescribing controlled substances are now required to provide hard numbers. The effort will help the state grasp the size of the opioid crisis and doctors’ prescribing habits.
Alaska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, is getting a facelift due to two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 74, passed last year, and House Bill 159, which Gov. Bill Walker signed in late July.
On July 17, SB 74 began requiring any licensed prescriber of opioids and other controlled substances to report the number of prescriptions they’re writing. Pharmacists are also mandated to report the number of those prescriptions going out the door weekly.
The program is ran by the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. Director Sara Chambers says the data will help providers understand their prescribing habits.
“There is a new report through HB 159 that authorizes our agency and the Board of Pharmacy, which is within our agency, to create what are called prescriber report cards,” Chambers explained.
These reports will let providers know just how many prescriptions they are writing and how that compares to their peers. Chambers explains the PDMP will serve as an educational tool for prescribers and pharmacists, and adds that it’s not a punitive measure.
However, governing boards, such as the Board of Pharmacy, will be able to access the data, and it can make decisions based on the information.
Prescribers are also required to access the PDMP database before prescribing controlled substances. The database allows them to see the last time a patient was prescribed a controlled substance such as an opioid, how many pills they received and the frequency of those prescriptions. A provider will also be able to see where the prescriptions are coming from.
“It can really help reduce doctor shopping. If there are people who don’t necessarily have a medical need for these substances, and if they’re going from doctor to doctor, pharmacy to pharmacy, this is a huge tool in deterring that type of activity,” Chambers notes.
The division hopes to have every licensed prescriber in the state on board and reporting by the fall. HB 159 will also require providers to shift from weekly reporting to providing daily reports next summer.
PDMP estimated numbers are already aggregated into annual reports for Alaska’s Legislature, but Chambers notes the division will be looking to spread the hard numbers far and wide.
“To help inform communities, to help inform age populations,” Chambers said, explaining who will benefit from the data. “Really spread the educational opportunities around to those who may be vulnerable and at risk and to those prescribing without realizing the impact that they’re having.”
The division will continue to examine trends and monitor their relation to medical professionals’ prescribing habits.
So far this year, the division estimates about 282,000 opioid prescriptions have been dispensed statewide. On the Kenai Peninsula, there have been enough opioids prescribed to supply 54 out of every 100 people with a prescription. Only the Prince of Wales-Hyder census area in Southeast Alaska has a higher per capita rate, and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough is a close third.
Correction: A previous version of this story reported that House Bill 74 required providers and pharmacists to report the number of prescriptions they're writing and dispensing. The correct bill is Senate Bill 74.