At the end of August, the state’s new electronic Prescription Monitoring Registry was officially launched. Little did we know that it would yield so quick, or prominent, a catch: Albany County Deputy Executive Christine Quinn, who was arrested last week for attempted criminal possession of Ritalin, a controlled substance.
Assuming that Quinn did what she is accused of doing — tricking a nurse practitioner into giving her another prescription long before her old supply was used up — she would appear to have a drug problem. If so, she has plenty of company: The Centers for Disease Control has called prescription drug abuse an epidemic. But the new system is designed to make it much harder for users to obtain drugs illegally from prescribers and pharmacies, and much easier to catch them — as well as their suppliers — if they do.
Doctors and other prescribers will now be required to check the registry before writing or renewing prescriptions. Pharmacists will be allowed, but not required, to check. It would be better if they were required, since that would make the system more foolproof, and they are required to input information from all the controlled substance prescriptions they fill anyway.
The system will allow health officials to detect patients who “doctor shop” — i.e. get a doctor to prescribe a drug for them when another will not, or get multiple doctors to prescribe the same drug, not knowing that others have done the same. It will also help with another serious, but not criminal, problem — that of dangerous drug interactions — by letting doctors see at a glance all the drugs their patients are taking.
Even when patients are acting illegally, the main goal should be to get them help. The registry will make it easier to find these people. Just as important, it will prevent them from getting addicted in the first place.