Prescription drugs, such as opioid painkillers, antidepressants, and antianxiety drugs are among the most often abused drugs.
Many people may assume that because they can be legally acquired through a doctor, that prescription drugs offer a safer way of getting high.
However, the truth is that, when taken outside of limits of medical supervision, they can be deeply harmful and addictive, and overdoses can be deadly.
For this reason, many doctors are very careful to not prescribe certain addictive drugs beyond what is absolutely necessary, and are thoughtful about how to help someone use the needed medication responsibly and safely.
However, there are a group of doctors who, for a fee, will help an addict get inappropriate amounts of certain addictive medications. A Los Angeles Times report by Scott Glover and Lisa Girion, found that only 0.1 percent of Southern California doctors were responsible for 298 overdose deaths.
Also, some addicts will "shop around," lying and manipulating a large group of doctors to amass large amounts of these pills, either for themselves or to sell. These unscrupulous and unethical means of acquiring these dangerous medications have caused prescription drug abuse to become a very serious endemic, one of the fastest growing drug problems in the U.S.
In an effort to deal with these problems, California, along with many other states, has created the "Controlled Substances Utilization Review and Evaluation System," or CURES. This requires pharmacies to inform the State Attorney General with the kinds and quantities of drugs prescribed, by which doctors and which patients.
However, this data collected has not been effective in reducing drug overdoses and deaths, largely because, according to the Times, the information is not being used effectively.
There are a small group of doctors who write more prescriptions than many entire hospital staff, giving away powerful painkillers to anyone who asked without a proper evaluation. However, the state medical board is often slow to revoked these doctors rights to write prescriptions or practice, even when people die of drug overdoes on their watch.
The state medical board's numbers have dwindled, and struggle with chronic underfunding. This means that investigations into an unethical doctor take a longer amount of time, which can make it harder to truly suspend an overprescribing doctor.
Likewise, pharmacists are also expected to evaluate a patient's true medical need, and not fill a perception he or she suspects is being abused, or of which there's not medical need. However, only 37 investigators with the California Board of Pharmacy are in charge of enforcing these laws, unable to do thorough evaluations of the state's 42,000 pharmacists and the 318 million prescriptions they fill.
Problem with CURES
There is a lack of coordination and truly concentrated effort that could stop these rogue doctors and pharmacists who are irresponsibly supplying addicts with large quantities of these addictive drugs. The CURES database is used to see if people are going to more then one doctor for a prescription, but not to see if one doctor is prescribing irresponsibly.
This major oversight is allowing many people dangerous access to these drugs for non-medical uses, and people are dying of overdoses as a result. Software entrepreneur Bob Pack, who inspired the CURES computer system, found faults with the system, in that it had an inability to truly flag patients who were "doctor shopping," or unsuccessfully trying to get drugs from multiple doctors, and doctors who overprescribed.
Currently, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier is working towards reforming the system, increasing its funding, and enabling it to be used to better investigate doctors, pharmacies, and patients with a "red flag" system for each, but there is also a need for the system to be updated, so that it works more efficiently and with better design which will work better with education efforts for prescription drug abuse. It is hoped that these reforms will be able to stop these unnecessary deaths, before there are any more.