- The state has announced the adoption of new guidelines for pain treatment to be used in hospital emergency departments.
One local physician said the move is a step in the right direction but he hopes state lawmakers take additional measures to combat the abuse of prescription drugs.
The abuse of opioids in particular has gotten "out of hand," said Patrick Pugliese, M.D., who specializes in emergency medicine with Wayne Memorial Health System.
As part of a plan to reduce prescription drug abuse and overdoses in Pennsylvania, a Safe and Effective Prescribing Practices and Pain Management Task Force has been established to work toward safer prescribing practices.
"The task force is doing a tremendous job identifying solutions to combat the escalating prescription opioid abuse epidemic in Pennsylvania," state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis said in a release. "These guidelines will cut down on the number of prescription drugs inappropriately being prescribed to individuals and will reduce over-utilization of emergency rooms for pain relief."
Opioid painkillers, such as Percocet, often lead to abuse of heroin, also an opioid, said Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards, adding she is greatly concerned with opiate abuse in the area.
The Emergency Department Pain Treatment guidelines recommend appropriate treatment to relieve pain and to identify individuals who may be abusing or are addicted to prescription opioid drugs so they can be referred to treatment.
Fighting the battle against the abuse of painkillers is a "big challenge," Pugliese said.
The medical doctor said he has followed guidelines similar to those of the state, but more steps need to be taken to curb the problem.
Many drug abusers without legitimate health issues go "ER shopping" to see where they can easily obtain prescriptions, Pugliese said.
A doctor may prescribe an opioid to a person complaining of severe pain only to call the patient's pharmacy the same day to discover the patient had just obtained a prescription for a large amount Percocet.
Such situations make some doctors wary of prescribing painkillers, and that puts patients with legitimate health issues at a disadvantage, Pugliese said.
The doctor said he hopes Pennsylvania can go further in the fight by establishing an 800 clearing house number employed by other states.
Police and doctors can enter patients' Social Security numbers and obtain information such as when the patients last obtained prescription medication.
Pugliese also said there are non-narcotic drugs, such as Ibuprofen, that treat pain just as effectively, and sometimes better, than opioids.
Edwards said also she supports the expansion of Pennsylvania’s prescription drug monitoring program and Senate Bill 1180.
The new legislation enhances the current drug monitoring program opening up access to doctors and pharmacies and allowing for more complete and accurate data that can be retrieved instantly, Edwards said.
The data is gathered by the program to identify prescription fraud, "doctor shopping," forgery and improper prescribing.
Currently, Pennsylvania's prescription drug monitoring program only collects data on schedule II narcotics such as OxyContin, Percocet and fentanyl.
There is no means to track other, highly-addictive schedule III, IV and V controlled substances like Vicodin, Xanax and Suboxone.
Bill 1180 improves the prescription drug monitoring program to track Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances and would be a proactive tool in the fight against prescription drug abuse to be used by both physicians and law enforcement, Edwards said.
"These substances are strictly regulated for a reason - they can and often do lead to addiction, overdoses and in many cases, death," Edwards stated in an email. "This expansion of PA’s program will help law enforcement identify and prosecute criminals.”
To view the full list of the new state guidelines visit http://www.pamedsoc.org/ERopioidguidelines.