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Editorial: Tracking cash payments for pain pills makes sense

Oct. 05, 2012 @ 12:14 AM

The quantities of pain pills sold to U.S. pharmacies, hospitals and physicians in 2010 was four times what it was in 1999, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Much of that supply is illegally diverted to addiction, and we know from the deadly overdoses, crime and crippled families the toll that has taken on our region.

Clearly, the pharmaceutical industry and medical professionals have created an oversupply, and both groups need to show more leadership on how to reduce the volume of pain pills manufactured and distributed. Moving these pills to a more restrictive classification, as U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has proposed, makes sense.

But that will not happen quickly, and in the meanwhile, the public and law enforcement must focus on the point of sale.

After all, almost every pill originates from a legal prescription.

Some of that supply is knowingly provided by unscrupulous medical professionals and "pill mills." But an even larger part of the problem are dealers and addicts working the system. They doctor shop for prescriptions, they use the prescriptions of family and friends, and they use a host of tricks to turn those prescriptions into a larger supply of drugs.

Wh ile West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky all have taken steps to better track prescription sales, the system as a whole still has a lot of leaks. This week, the West Virginia Sheriffs Association identified one of those -- cash payments.

Prescriptions paid for by insurance are entered into the databases used by third-party administrators to process and pay for prescription drug claims, but cash payments are not, the Charleston Gazette reported Thursday. That allows a dealer or addict to fill the same prescription multiple times at different pharmacies before other tracking systems might detect the activity.

The sheriffs' organization points out that "real-time" recording of those cash payments would not only prevent users from filling the same prescription again, but giving its officers access to that information could provide leads to dealers and "pill mill" operations.

Some argue that new tracking systems authorized by recent legislation will accomplish the same goal, but that remains to be seen.

Adding cash payments to these real-time systems across the country would be one more guard against illegal prescriptions and one more step toward reducing the oversupply of pain killers across the country.

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