Attorney general’s Rx for drug abuse: the Internet

Times Staff Writer

State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown unveiled a plan Wednesday to provide doctors and pharmacists with almost instant Internet access to patient prescription drug histories to help prevent so-called doctor shopping and other abuses of pharmaceuticals.

Brown told a Los Angeles news conference that the state’s prescription monitoring is a “horse-and-buggy” system that needs significant improvements because it now can take healthcare professionals weeks to obtain information on drug use by patients. That delay can allow some patients to get large quantities of drugs from multiple doctors for personal use or sale.

“If California puts this on real-time access, it will give doctors and pharmacies the technology they need to fight prescription drug abuse, which is burdening our healthcare system,” Brown said.


The database, known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, contains 86 million entries for prescription drugs dispensed in California.

Prescription drug abuse is a rising problem, with the federal government reporting that 7 million Americans engaged in nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals in 2006 -- up from 6 million two years earlier.

Using a secure, privately funded online database, Brown said, health professionals would be able to access drug histories of patients instead of mailing or faxing written requests for the information. Each year more than 60,000 such requests are made.

Bob Pack, an East Bay computer company owner, joined with Kaiser Permanente to fund a feasibility study of the project. He then offered to help raise $3.5 million, enough to build and support the computer system for the next several years. Pack’s young son and daughter were killed in 2003 by a driver who had recently received multiple prescriptions for drugs and told police that she had taken numerous pills the day of the accident.

Pack said he believed that the system could be operational in as little as 10 months.

Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, called the online access “a classic double-edged sword.”

“Obviously there is a good reason for it, but there could be significant privacy abuses that could end up harming individuals,” Givens said, adding that patents should have access to their drug histories to ensure accuracy.

Officials said access is restricted to health professionals, regulatory boards and law enforcement agencies with active investigations.