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LOS ANGELES – Continuing his effort to curb prescription-drug abuse, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today unveiled a new internet-based prescription-monitoring database that provides physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement officers a powerful technology to stop 'drug seekers' from obtaining prescription drugs.
"The recent deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson have made clear to the whole world just how dangerous prescription drug abuse can be,” said Brown. “Today, my office is inaugurating a high-tech monitoring system that will enable doctors and law enforcement to identify and stop prescription-drug seekers from doctor-shopping and abusing prescription drugs.'
The state's secure database, known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), contains more than 100 million entries representing controlled substances (Schedule II, III and IV) dispensed in California. Controlled substances are classified under federal guidelines based on potential for abuse and accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and international treaties.
Prescription Drug-Monitoring Database
Today’s launch of the online CURES database is part of Brown’s effort to curb prescription-drug abuse in the state and make it easier for doctors to track their patients’ prescription-drug history. The database gives health professionals (doctors, pharmacists, midwives, and registered nurses), law enforcement agencies and medical profession regulatory boards instant computer access to patients’ controlled-substance records. This replaces the state’s previous system that required mailing or faxing written requests for information. Each year, more than 60,000 such requests are made to the Attorney General’s office.
Each database record contains a patient’s dispensed drug record, including:
• Drug Name
• Date Filled
• Quantity, Strength and Number of Refills
• Pharmacy Name and License Number
• Doctor’s Name and DEA Number
• Prescription Number
Under the new system, a pain-management physician examining a new patient complaining of chronic back pain would be able to instantly look up the patient’s controlled-substance history to determine whether the patient legitimately needs medication or is a “doctor shopper.” “Doctor shoppers” are prescription-drug addicts who visit dozens of doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for drugs. In the past, the doctor’s request could take several days for a response. Now with CURES instant access, doctors can identify doctor shoppers and other prescription-drug abusers before they write them another prescription. Law enforcement can also flag a person in the database to alert physicians to potential abusers.
Last year, the Attorney General’s office provided more than 64,000 Patient Activity Reports to authorized subscribers.
Growing Problem of Prescription-Drug Abuse
With 7,500 pharmacies and 158,000 prescribers reporting prescription information annually, CURES is the largest online prescription-drug monitoring database in the United States. Its goal is to reduce drug trafficking and abuse of dangerous prescription medications, lower the number of emergency room visits due to prescription-drug overdose and misuse, and reduce the costs to healthcare providers related to prescription-drug abuse.
Prescription-drug abuse costs the state and health insurers millions of dollars each year. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 20 to 30 percent of California’s drug abusers primarily use prescription drugs. In addition, a 2005 survey by the Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates that non-medical use of pharmaceuticals accounted for more than 500,000 emergency room visits in California, an enormous drain on the state's healthcare system.
According to the latest Department of Justice 'Drug Trends' report, Valium, Vicodin, and Oxycontin are the most prevalent pharmaceutical drugs obtained fraudulently. Vicodin and Oxycontin are the two most abused pharmaceutical drugs in the United States.
CURES Success Stories
Prescription-drug abuse can have serious consequences for both abusers and the public. Each year, hundreds of people die from prescription-drug overdose in California. Dozens more are injured or killed by prescription-drug abusers who are driving under the influence of medication. The problem is on the rise; recent studies have found that teens are increasingly more likely to have abused prescription drugs than most illicit drugs.
Last year, Brown and the CURES team targeted the top 50 doctor shoppers in the state, who averaged more than 100 doctor and pharmacy visits to collect massive quantities of addictive drugs like Valium, Vicodin, and Oxycontin. The crackdown led to the arrest of dozens of suspects, including Frankie Greer, 53, who visited 183 doctors and 47 pharmacies to feed a prescription-drug habit that included some of the most dangerous painkillers in lethal combinations. In a one-year period, Greer sought out multiple doctors at hospital emergency rooms to prescribe her more than 4,830 hydrocodone tablets, 2,210 oxycodone tablets and 156 Oxycotin pills, along with a variety of additional addictive painkillers.
In May 2009, the CURES team worked with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office to provide detectives with the prescribing history of Dr. Bernard Bass, a Burbank doctor accused of writing hundreds of fraudulent prescriptions to feed his patients’ drug addictions. Seven of his patients died from prescription-drug overdoses. Following an investigation that included the CURES report of the prescriptions he had written, Dr. Bass faced criminal charges, lost his medical license and surrendered his license to prescribe controlled substances.
CURES can also alert law enforcement and licensed medical professionals to signs of illegal drug diversions. Last fall, Brown’s office teamed up with the Simi Valley Police Department to investigate Ricky Washington, known to police for his violent history, street gang-affiliation and previous drug-trafficking arrests. The 12-month investigation revealed a criminal conspiracy in which Ricky Washington and associates had stolen the identities of eight doctors, which they used to illegally write prescriptions. The drug-trafficking group also stole the identities of dozens of innocent citizens, designating them as 'patients' in order to fill the fraudulent prescriptions. The drug ring obtained more than 11,000 pills of highly addictive drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin.
For more information on the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and California's current prescription drug monitoring system visit: http://ag.ca.gov/bne/cures.php.
For doctors and other authorized healthcare and prescription-drug providers, visit ag.ca.gov for more information on CURES and how to register.