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Mass. regulators move to tighten tracking of addictive drugs

Facing a surge in opioid-related deaths, Massachusetts health regulators moved Wednesday to expand the state’s effort to track potentially addictive drugs by requiring doctors to record every such prescription.

The state Public Health Council also discussed giving more health workers — including physician’s assistants, nurse-practitioners, and psychiatric nurses — access to the database of the Prescription Monitoring Program so they can see a patient’s drug history.

The council, an appointed board of physicians, academics, and consumer advocates, expressed broad support for the proposals and will probably vote on the strengthened monitoring later this year.

The Prescription Monitoring Program, an online database, tracks drug prescriptions and can identify patients who obtain an excessive number of prescriptions for powerful painkillers, such as OxyContin.


The proposal from Governor Deval Patrick’s administration would require physicians who use the database to record prescriptions for commonly abused drugs each time they prescribe them, instead of recording only a patient’s first prescription.

Patients can get access to addictive prescription drugs by “doctor shopping,” searching for multiple physicians to prescribe painkillers, even if they are not needed medically.

“Obviously, we’ve come a long way” in finding measures to try to end the opioid crisis, said Dr. Alan Woodward, a member of the Public Health Council. “I hope it’s going to end up with a positive impact on prescription use and overuse.”

Patrick declared a public health emergency in March in response to rising opioid overdoses and deaths. More than 200 people have died of opioid overdoses in Massachusetts since November.

On Tuesday, Patrick met with four other New England governors to discuss sharing prescription data and making it easier for patients to seek addiction treatment.

“For the first time, this public health emergency and the declaration from the governor have allowed us to destigmatize this disease,” Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said. “This really feels like the most promising time in this particular area in health and public health.”


Yasmeen Abutaleb can be reached at yasmeen.abutaleb@