In West Virginia, Has Restricting Rx Meds Caused More Heroin Deaths?

Drug Monitoring

Researchers Examine the True Impact of Rx Drug Monitoring Programs

Call it the law of unintended consequences. Across the nation, 49 states have so-called prescription drug monitoring programs, and 36 states have laws requiring doctors to check them. But some new research adds an important caveat about how well prescription drug monitoring programs work. After West Virginia required doctors to use its database, overdoses from heroin among 18- to 34-year-olds actually went up, more than doubling in just three years.

Some researchers suspect that by making prescription painkillers more difficult to obtain, states are limiting the supply of opioids, but doing little to diminish demand. Thus many users switch from painkillers to heroin which they purchase on the street. As the street-level heroin is increasingly laced with fentanyl, former users of painkillers could now be overdosing more frequently.

“It really underscores the need for a multi-faceted, comprehensive solution for this,” says Sara Warfield, a graduate student in epidemiology at West Virginia University, who led the new research. In other words, prescription drug monitoring alone can’t tackle opioid overdoses.

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Read more about West Virginia’s drug monitoring program at Pacific Standard.

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