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Monitoring Program Allows Doctors and Law Enforcement to Keep Close Eye on Prescription Pills

Painkillers and other prescription pills can be easy to obtain and are often highly addictive. In recent years, ordinary people from all walks of life have gotten caught up in this potentially harmful combination. An increase in the possession, sale, and abuse of prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Ritalin has prompted Arizona law enforcement officials to approach the problem more seriously.

In 2009, the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy began to oversee The Controlled Substance Prescription Monitoring program, which has allowed law enforcement to keep a closer eye on those who obtain prescription pills with the hope of curbing the prescription drug crime problem.

Under the program, prescription information is stored in a centralized, state-managed database that can be accessed by doctors and pharmacists around Arizona. It allows them to more easily identify "doctor shoppers" and "prescription tourists," people who visit various doctors to obtain addictive drugs for their own purposes or to make a profit by selling them on the street illegally.

Doctors and pharmacists who learn of a patient's overuse through the system can stop providing them the drug, alert other doctors and pharmacists, counsel the patient and even contact law-enforcement agencies to further investigate the nature of the patient's prescription abuse.

Dr. Stephen Borowsky, an anesthesiologist and pain-management specialist, shared a recent experience he had with a patient that highlights the scope of the prescription pill problem. Using the database, Dr. Borowsky checked on a patient who was seeking medication and discovered that the individual had visited 23 doctors and 18 pharmacies seeking controlled painkillers over the past eight months.

While law enforcement officials and members of the medical profession praise the program for its effectiveness in preventing prescription drugs from getting into the wrong hands, others are more critical of its implications. Privacy-rights advocates, for example, fear that computer hackers or unscrupulous health workers might gain access to patients' personal information through the system.

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