Prescription Drugs:

State Monitoring Programs Provide Useful Tool to Reduce Diversion

GAO-02-634: Published: May 17, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2002.

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Prescription drug diversion is the channeling of pharmaceuticals for illegal purposes or abuse. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), increased prescription drug abuse and emergency room admissions, as well as the theft and illegal resale of prescription drugs, indicate that drug diversion is a growing problem associated with addiction, overdose, and death. All 15 state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) collect information about the prescribing, dispensing, and use of prescription drugs and distribute it to medical practitioners, pharmacies, and state law enforcement and regulatory agencies. However, the programs differ in terms of objectives, design, and operations. In addition to helping law enforcement identify and prevent prescription drug diversion, program objectives also include education of the public, physicians, and pharmacists about the nature and extent of the problem, and medical treatment options for abusers of diverted drugs. The programs' designs vary by specific drugs covered and by the type of state agency in which they are housed. Some programs use the prescription data proactively to identify trends or patterns of use and to respond to law enforcement requests. Others use it only to respond to requests. States with PDMPs improve the timeliness of law enforcement and regulatory investigations. States considering establishing a PDMP, or expanding an existing one, face several challenges. These include educating the public and policymakers about prescription drug diversion and abuse and the benefits of a PDMP, responding to the concerns of physicians, patients, and pharmacists regarding the confidentiality of prescription information, and funding for program development and operations. National efforts to assist states in addressing illegal diversion have focused on providing guidance and technical assistance.

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