The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 18, 2014

Doctor shopping in West Virginia is a loophole that must be closed

The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy has revealed that 176 patients in the state are suspected of “doctor shopping” to the tune of obtaining prescriptions from at least 13 separate doctors each over the past year.

The practice is aimed at duping doctors into prescribing far more pharmaceutical drugs — usually painkillers or powerful sedatives — than the patient needs, at least for any medical reasons.

The excess drugs are either abused by the patient at dosage levels far above what is normally prescribed, or they are sold on the street for a profit.

What was striking about the story in The Charleston Gazette was the fact that there is a mechanism in place to prevent this practice, but not all medical professionals are using it correctly.

All medical professionals who write prescriptions must register with the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program database.

Problem is, many who are writing prescriptions aren’t following through with the system.

“A lot of these people are getting through the cracks because not everybody is using the monitoring program regularly,” says Mike Goff, an administrator at the pharmacy board.

Law enforcement will investigate the 176 suspected doctor shoppers to see if somehow the prescriptions are legitimate, Goff said.

“You can’t, just because it looks bad, go in and arrest someone,” he added.

That is true, and this isn’t about a witch-hunt.

West Virginia pharmacies fill more than 5 million prescriptions for controlled substances — mostly narcotics — annually, The Associated Press reports.

“We’re encouraging the use of the monitoring program because we believe that the more people who use it the less folks will be able to get these excessive prescriptions,” Goff said. “If the prescribers, as well as the pharmacists who fill the prescriptions ... if everyone looked at the monitoring program, it would be really tough for a person to go in and get multiple, overlapping prescriptions.”

Doctor shopping in West Virginia is a loophole that needs to be closed.

The mechanism for doing so is already in place — the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program.

Those who prescribe these drugs, and those who fill the prescriptions, simply have to do a better job of using the monitoring program.

We understand that this effort will take additional time for medical professionals who are no doubt already overworked.

But cutting off the supply of narcotics and other addictive drugs before they hit our streets is the best way to cut into our drug problem.

To fight the drug scourge in West Virginia, the battles must be fought on multiple fronts. And each of us has a role to play, whether it is law enforcement, education, drug treatment, the media or even as a private citizen who is fed up.

In many ways, physicians and pharmacists are on the front lines of this war. They need to be the most ardent champions of the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program, and do their part in keeping these drugs off of our streets and out of our homes.

— The (Beckley) Register-Herald

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