DALLAS (AP) — Amid a rising prescription drug problem, the Texas Department of Public Safety has launched an online program designed to spot drug dealers and abusers by tracking prescribed painkillers and other controlled substances.
The database, called Prescription Access in Texas, builds on a long-running state program by giving law enforcement and health care professionals swift access to a database of dispensed controlled substances online, allowing them to immediately see what medication a patient has received anywhere in the state in the past year. Until now, it could take days — or even longer — to access the same data.
"It can help identify those who are 'doctor shopping,' and physicians who are illicitly providing drugs," DPS spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said. "Doctor shopping" is a term used to describe people who go to multiple doctors for the same prescription drugs, which they either sell or use to fuel their own addictions.
Prescription drug addiction and dealing have risen nationwide in the past decade, fueling a lucrative business that can bring in as much as $100 per pill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says overdose deaths from prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone have skyrocketed in the last 10 years. Some estimate that deaths from prescription drug overdoses exceed those from car accidents. In Dallas County, 14.5 percent of high school students have admitted using an illegally obtained prescription drug in the last 30 days, said Natalie Buxton, a community prevention coordinator for the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
"A lot of other states are doing this too, and probably better than Texas," Buxton said of the online access. "This is really just the next step."
Texas' original prescription drug-monitoring program began in 1982, but it was limited in scope and getting information was a slow process involving paperwork. DPS started making the online database available to a limited group in June and expanded it this month.
Dr. C. M. Schade, a pain management specialist in Dallas, helped test the online program. People who fail to disclose that they are receiving pain medication from other doctors could face legal consequences, he said.
"We're on the front line, writing the scrips, we want to do the right thing. It's shocking sometimes who you find is not telling you the truth," Schade said.
While the state has taken measures to ensure the data is secure and can only be accessed by licensed practitioners and pharmacists, the American Civil Liberties Union has reservations about the program, calling it "government surveillance."
The ACLU would like patients to have access to the database so they can check if their information has been requested and to spot and seek corrections if they find errors, said Dotty Griffith, the ACLU's spokeswoman in Texas.