Obviously, a lot has been said and written linking Internet pharmacies to prescription drug abuse. But prescription drug abuse occurs every day without the Internet being involved at all. In most cases, in fact, abusers are prescribed their meds by a doctor and pick them up at the corner pharmacy.
How does this happen? Shouldn’t physicians know when they’ve overprescribed a potentially dangerous drug to a patient?
Yes, an individual doctor should know. But most prescription drug abusers don’t just go to one doctor. They go to several. It’s called “doctor shopping.”
Actor Heath Ledger didn’t die from ordering drugs over the Internet. He died because he ordered too many drugs from too many different doctors. No one doctor would have approved Ledger’s drug regimen.
The Wall Street Journal’s health blog posted a great piece last Thursday on a man who is on a crusade to end the scourge of doctor shopping in California by upgrading a database that will allow physicians to check patients’ prescription drug history. The current system is virtually useless, slowed down by outdated technology (hint: fax machines are involved.)
What we really need is a database like this on a national basis. We should require both online and offline pharmacies to use it, at the risk of losing their license if they don’t. And, once we get past the politics over Canadian drug reimportation and bring licensed Canadian pharmacies officially into the fold, we can require them to use the database, too.
Of course, the problem is that privacy advocates will say it’s a violation of our rights, and right-wing pundits will say it’s a step toward socialized medicine. But if we’re committed to keeping prescription drug abusers off the streets, it’s something we must do.