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Editorial | Crisis Proportions

Give medical residents access to drug database

As part of his campaign against opioid abuse, Governor Charlie Baker has urged doctors, dentists, and anyone else who can prescribe drugs to use the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. The database, run by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, collects and updates prescription information fed into it by Massachusetts hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, as well as by out-of-state mail order pharmacies that deliver to Massachusetts addresses. The monitoring program can help physicians determine whether a patient has a history of obtaining drugs from multiple sources — a practice known as “doctor shopping.” In an emergency room setting, for instance, a busy doctor might have a difficult time determining whether a patient’s pain is real or concocted — addicts quickly learn to become skilled at deception.

The Department of Public Health calls the monitoring system “groundbreaking.” But there’s an obvious flaw that requires a quick fix: Doctors who have finished medical school and are in residency training aren’t allowed to log on to the database, even though they are authorized to prescribe drugs. As the Globe’s Felice J. Freyer reported Monday, medical residents have to seek out a fully licensed doctor to review prescription records online. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a resident couldn’t easily locate a doctor with the time or inclination to scour the records of someone else’s patient. It also doesn’t make sense to involve two doctors to carry out this simple task.


Medical professionals and state officials all seem to agree that the exclusion of resident physicians from the program was an oversight. State Representative Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat, has proposed legislation that would give doctors-in-training access to the database, through an amendment to the comprehensive opioid-abuse package the governor introduced in October. Baker had wanted a version of the bill ready for his signature by Thanksgiving, but legislators adjourned for the year without taking action on it. Fortunately, a vote is not required to close the loophole in the prescription monitoring program. The Department of Public Health can on its own amend the rules to grant medical residents log-in permission.

A spokesman for the department told the Globe that an improved monitoring program is “a critical priority” for the governor. Here’s an easy way to make things better overnight. In a crisis, every minute counts.