Database Technology Ineffective in War on Prescription Drug Abuse

prescription_drugsThe “War on Drugs” used to focus on those hard-core street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy. Now, those charged with trying to keep these drugs off the streets are finding that they no longer pose the greatest threat. Instead, prescription medications are now the new opponents.

The Sun Sentinel reported this latest craze, citing a DEA report that more than 7 million Americans are now abusing prescription drugs. More alarming is the fact that this is more than the number of people abusing heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, and inhalants combined.

The state of Florida has long worn the banner as the drug capital of the United States. In the 1980s, this was the reason for aggressive law enforcement, increased treatment programs, and education. This approach helped the state’s reputation, but not for long. As prescription drugs emerged on the scene, Florida was once again on the frontlines, lacking an effective, cutting-edge prescription drug monitoring system.

While 38 states use prescription drug databases, the outdated technology does not allow for real-time entry of prescribing and dispensing data. As a result, several days can pass before a red flag is identified in a situation where potentially dangerous activities could be occurring.

The data captured can identify if a person is obtaining multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors, known as “doctor shopping.” However, when there is a lag time in the identification of such activities, the person could slip under the radar by moving to another area or using another identity.

To combat an outdated system, the Sun article suggests a move to biometrics. This electronic finger printing system allows for real-time reporting and is designed to be more secure to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens. This biometric system provides the technology to identify a doctor shopper in 15 seconds.

This system may be able to improve law enforcement’s chance to prevent prescription drug abuse, but how will law-abiding citizens feel about such a process? Even if it promises to be secure, should they be put through such a process if they have never given reason to believe they have been dishonest in acquiring their medication? This one could still be open for debate because although it might be effective, it opens up privacy concerns.

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