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Santa Monica Nonprofit Urges Action On Prescription Drug Abuse

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By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

February 5, 2016 -- Doctors and pharmacists in California already must register at a database that tracks drug prescriptions, but a Santa Monica consumers' group is urging state lawmakers to take the next step by requiring physicians to check the database before prescribing opiates.

Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, said SB 482 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, could “turn the tide” in authorities' battle to stem overdose deaths from prescribed opioids.

“California loses 12 people every day to preventable drug overdose, more than any other state in the nation,” Balber said in a news release this week. “By requiring doctors to get the facts on a patient’s history before prescribing narcotics we can turn the tide on opioid overprescribing.”

This year, the state Attorney General's Office announced a new-and improved database that tracks patients’ prescriptions and stores records for all controlled substances prescribed in the state.

The Controlled Substance Utilization, Review and Evaluation System, also called CURES 2.0, overhauled the state’s prescription drug monitoring program by allowing doctors and pharmacists and other approved officials to log onto a secure website to review a patient’s medication history before prescribing new drugs.

Health practitioners licensed to prescribe or dispense controlled medications in California must sign up for CURES 2.0 by July 1.

SB 482 would require physicians to log onto CURES 2.0 before they prescribe opium-derived medicines. The bill passed in the Senate last year and now goes to the Assembly, said Balber.

States that now mandate doctors to check drug data bases have seen large drops in “doctor shopping.” “Doctor shopping” is when criminals visit several physicians to obtain controlled substances by lying about being ill or injured.

“Ten states that already mandate use of state prescription databases have seen reduced doctor-shopping, lower opioid prescription rates, and physician appreciation for the utility of the databases to inform prescribing,” said Balber.

Former state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who authored the bill in 2013 that created CURES 2.0, said the state is experiencing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

“The U.S. claims less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply,” he said in a news release earlier this year. “Each day, 44 people in the U.S. die from an overdose of prescription painkillers. By launching CURES 2.0 and requiring all prescribers and pharmacists to enroll, California will be on the cutting edge of addressing this crisis.”

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