Committee Passes Bill that Requires Physicians Check Prescription Drug Database Before Prescribing Powerful, Addictive Medications

A key California legislative committee passed a bill today that requires prescribers to check a state database before prescribing the most addictive medications – like OxyContin and other opioids – to help prevent prescription drug addiction and thousands of overdose deaths.

SB 482, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, will require prescribers to check Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) before prescribing Schedule II and III drugs for the first time to a patient, and annually if the course of narcotic treatment continues.

Lisa Greene Bond, whose sister, Kristin Greene, fatally overdosed on prescription drugs, testified at the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee hearing in support of the bill.

“There is nothing more horrific than watching your own and only sister come out of her room in a body bag,” said Bond. “The system failed her, her kids and her family. We were failed by not having this system in place.  It is proven in other states it works. Please don’t let this happen to another family again.”

In Kristin Greene’s room, after her death, officials and her family found 60 prescriptions, many for medications that were powerful and potentially addictive, including sedatives, anti-anxiety medicines and narcotics, written by nine different medical professionals in the previous five years. Had Kristin’s doctors or pharmacists been required to check the CURES database before filling those prescriptions, her death may have been prevented.

"Prescription drug overdoses claim tens of thousands of lives every year. And nearly 23,000 people died from an overdose of pharmaceuticals in 2013 nationally," said Sen. Lara. "It's time to save lives by ensuring that prescribers consult the CURES system before prescribing drugs."

Dr. Clark Smith, board-certified in both Addiction Psychiatry and in Pain Medicine, also testified in support of SB 482.  

“As the medical director of drug and alcohol treatment programs for the past 25 years, I've witnessed an explosion of prescription drug abuse, with a 500 percent increase in overdose deaths from 1999 through 2010,” said Dr. Smith. “Before the CURES database came online, I'd have to tediously chase down all the doctors prescribing pills to my doctor-shopping, addicted patients. And then the patient could just get a new set of doctors to feed their addiction. With the advent of the CURES database, I had a powerful life saving tool that could show me exactly what pills my patients were taking and which doctors were prescribing them.”

He added, “I feel certain that when doctors find out that CURES 2.0 is an important, life-saving tool, they will continue to use it as part of good medical care, to help every patient in California.”  

“This is a common sense approach to a tragic, yet fixable, epidemic,” said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog. “Drug databases like CURES can reduce a patient’s risk for overdose and provide an opportunity to intervene with patients who are abusing medications. Unfortunately, the databases are seldom used when not mandatory.”

Other states that require use of a CURES-type database – New York, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia – have seen dramatic reductions in the number of doctor-shoppers and opiate prescriptions. Opiate painkiller prescriptions declined between 7 and 10 percent in these states, and “doctor-shopping” by addicts fell by as much as 75 percent. In February, the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database 2015 Report to the 109th Tennessee General Assembly reported that: 41 percent of prescribers report that they are less likely to prescribe controlled substances after checking the database; 34 percent of prescribers are more likely to refer a patient for substance abuse treatment; and, 86 percent of prescribers report that the database is useful for decreasing doctor shopping.

SB 482 can also mean significant savings for the state and local governments by reducing health care costs. A 75 percent drop in doctor-shopping in California, as experienced in New York when use of its prescription drug database became mandatory, would reduce state and local spending on prescription drugs for Medi-Cal patients by up to $300 million a year.

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