New system to keep close eye on prescriptions
BOSTON >> A new version of the state's prescription monitoring system is scheduled to go live next week after more than $6 million in upgrades, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society, which described the program as a key tool to fight misuse of prescription drugs.
The statewide physicians association is urging all health care providers to enroll in the updated program, called the Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool, or MassPAT.
"Physicians have been urging improvements to the monitoring program for some time, and Governor Baker and the Department of Public Health have delivered," Dr. James Gessner, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said in a statement. "Substantial resources have been invested to improve the system, to make it easier for physicians to use and to access more information more quickly. It is now incumbent on physicians and all prescribers to participate."
Announced July 14 by the Department of Public Health, the new monitoring tool is intended to be more efficient and user-friendly than the existing system, aligning with recommendations from an opioid abuse working group convened by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The working group's report said that the prescription monitoring program, first established in 1992, was an "underutilized tool" that is essential to identifying "sources of prescription drug diversion."
Among the group's recommendations was ensuring that the program's data is compatible with the information collected by other states.
"By the fall we'll probably have an interoperable prescription monitoring program that all the New England states will be able to work off of together and practitioners across the New England states will be able to work off together," Baker said at a New England Council breakfast in June. "And they will have for the first time access to data that'll make it possible for people to have a pretty good sense about what's going on with respect to doc shopping and some of the other issues that are related to that across the region."
Thomas Flynn, of Flynn Pharmacy in Pittsfield, said Friday he expects the new program will be more user-friendly than the current version and a further refinement of the monitoring system. One change over time, he said, has been that information entered into the system now appears sooner in the database.
"The old [system] was OK and fairly quick," he added, "and it was getting better."
Even so, Flynn said, a purchase someone makes at another pharmacy a day before would not be in the system for a few days, even though pharmacies now must enter sales of controlled drugs within 24 hours — as opposed to the original state requirement of entering the data within 15 days.
"It is a great system for tracking someone's [prescription] history and for tracking trends," he said.
The changes to the prescription monitoring program include a new interface with faster access to data, interoperability with monitoring systems in other states, integration with electronic medical systems and "efficient on-boarding for users," according to the DPH.
Data from Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York are now accessible through the monitoring program, with information from other states to follow, the medical society said.
Beginning Oct. 15, all prescribers will be required to check MassPAT each time they prescribe a Schedule II or III opioid, and for first-time prescriptions of benzodiazepines and Schedule IV through VI drugs, according to the DPH.
Schedules II through V are categories covering "prescription drugs with recognized potential for abuse or dependence, such as narcotics, stimulants, and sedatives, and are among those most sought for illicit and non-medical use," according to the medical society.
Staff writer Jim Therrien contributed to this report.
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