Prescription Drug Abuse Rising as State Cuts Monitoring Program

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No one knows better than Governor Jerry Brown the harm that will be done if recent cuts in the state’s innovative prescription drug monitoring program force it to shut down, as predicted, by year’s end.

Brown unveiled the internet-based database version of the tracking system, known as CURES, in September 2009 when he was attorney general. He said, at the time, “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.”

A recent White House report concurs, stating: “Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.”

The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) has been around in one form or another since 1939 and is the oldest in the nation. It contains more than 100 million records. 

Law enforcement uses the database to track doctors suspected of dispensing too many addictive narcotic pain medications, and doctors use it to see if patients are “doctor shopping” or manipulating the medical system to obtain drugs from multiple sources.

When in full operation, CURES responds to about 60,000 inquiries a year from doctors and pharmacists.

Although its financial needs are small, it was reduced to a part-time staff after budget cuts in the state Department of Justice, and is expected to run out of money in a matter of months. The existing staff is able to register doctors with the database, but no longer can perform regular technical support and answer calls from pharmacists and others.

CURES is the largest online prescription-drug monitoring database in the country and is the model for 36 states with similar programs. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 20% to 30% of California’s drug abusers primarily use prescription drugs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that prescription drugs, including opioids and antidepressants, are responsible for more overdose deaths than all illegal street drugs.   

When Attorney General Brown showcased the database in 2009, 7,500 pharmacies and 158,000 drug prescribers reported information to the system. The goal was to lower costs to health-care providers, reduce use and abuse of prescription drugs, and try to put a dent in the number of Californians using emergency rooms—half a million annually, at last count—who make use of this expensive public service.   

State officials estimate the CURES database costs about $1 million annually to operate.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Prescription Drug Monitoring System Running Low on Funds (by Christina Jewett, The Bay Citizen)

Rx Drug Database Is Worth Sparing (by County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and DEA Special Agent William Sherman, San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed)

Brown Unveils Real-Time Statewide Prescription Drug-Monitoring System (Office of the Attorney General)

Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis (White House) (pdf)

CURES/PDMP (Office of the Attorney General)

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