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New state laws on prescription painkillers may slow your visit

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times

UTStephCollogoIn order to combat the significant problem of prescription drug abuse, Pennsylvania has put into place a prescription drug monitoring program. This program will allow prescribers and dispensers to review the medications prescribed for an individual patient.

This system mandates that all licensed prescribers in PA review the system prior to writing a prescription for a controlled substance. The system went “live” on Aug. 25. As with any new program it will take medical offices and pharmacies some time to get comfortable with the new system. I ask not only professionally but personally to please bear with everyone as we integrate this system into our practice.

Too many young lives have been lost to heroin, most young people start out by getting hooked on prescription drugs (such as Vicodin®, Percocet®, or OxyContin® to name a few). Heroin is now cheaper than most prescription drugs, and readily available. While no system can prevent the overuse of prescribed narcotics, this system goes a long way to help providers make informed choices when prescribing medications.

Why does this monitoring program help? First, if a person is getting multiple prescriptions filled for narcotic pain relief it allows the provider to review the medical history more closely and decide if the concern warrants the prescription. Many patients have prescriptions from multiple medical professionals, this allows us to see the big picture. The PDMP system does not deny the prescription, it merely informs the provider and pharmacist of what the patient history of controlled substances is. Prescriptions that do not have an addiction potential are not listed on the database.

Let me explain – if a patient were to come to my office with a toothache, and elects to delay treatment but needs to get out of pain today, I am obligated by law to look at the PDMP prior to writing a prescription for a controlled substance. Once I check the portal I can see the history of narcotic use. If I were to find an individual who has been having 120 narcotic pills prescribed every month for over a year it may alter my prescribing choice. How does this happen? Some individuals may see multiple providers use multiple pharmacies and multiple variations on a home address. In this scenario this individual’s health insurance was their dealer or supplying them for someone else. Needless to say it would allow me to make a more informed treatment decision.

Pharmacists are now required to check the database as well. They can see what has been dispensed by other pharmacies and also note what providers are doing the dispensing. It’s not hard to imagine how some people have been gaming the system for drugs. The PDMP is a tool to allow providers and pharmacists to work together to get the appropriate medication to those who need it without supplying those who do not.

Now before the comments start – some people due to significant concerns in their medical history may need to be treated for chronic pain. That is why the system is informational – the prescriptions that may appropriately care for one person may be signs of abuse in another.

Wondering what your report says about you? The legislation allows an individual to check their report quarterly without charge. A form is required to be sent to the department of health.  Visit www.health.pa.gov to learn more. All of the information collected and reviewed is considered private and confidential medical information. If you or someone you know is battling prescription drug addiction call 717-783-8200 or visit apps.ddap.pa.gove/GetHelpNow

Tips for parents of teens

If your child has had surgery or other invasive procedure that requires narcotic pain relief, speak with the provider as to when they can switch to a non-narcotic alternative and make the switch as soon as possible.

Know the language on the bottles, most pharmacies dispense generic equivalents of the name brand narcotic pain medications. Keep any unused drugs out of the reach of youngsters. Here are a few of the common narcotic pain killers that many adults may have accumulated in their medicine cabinets and the names that they are often called on the street. Discard unused drugs safely, many municipalities have prescription collection centers.

Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, and others)

O.C., Oxycet, Oxycotton, Oxy, Hillbilly Heroin, Percs         

Hydrocodone or dihydrocodeinone (Vicodin®, Lortab®, Lorcet®, and others)

Vike, Watson-387

Meperidine (Demerol®)

Demmies, Pain Killer 

Visit drugabuse.gov to learn more


Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann has opened a new practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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