Your stories on the increase in overdose deaths in Madison and St. Clair counties serve as an important reminder that prescription opioids are powerful medications that should only be used as prescribed by physicians for the treatment of serious pain. Misuse of these prescription drugs is extremely dangerous, and studies suggest their misuse is associated with escalation to the use of heroin.
According to 2013 data compiled by IMS Health, only two states use fewer Schedule II controlled substances than Illinois. This is good news because medications in this drug category, such as oxycodone, have a higher risk for abuse and addiction.
We must remain vigilant. That’s why the Illinois State Medical Society has engaged Illinois physicians on this issue, and strongly encourages doctors to become familiar with the national guidelines for opioid prescribing. Further, the society has offered and promoted free online safe prescribing courses for physicians and educational materials for their patients. We continue to encourage safe drug disposal as well.
Prescription drug abusers often rely on pills prescribed to someone else. All patients should dispose of unused medications. Many local police departments have medication drop-off sites or can advise on what you should do with unused pills.
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Illinois’ Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is another important tool. This searchable database can help prescribers determine whether their patients were previously prescribed commonly abused drugs. This information can help prescribers and pharmacists detect whether a person is “doctor shopping,” with the goal of obtaining enough drug to support an addiction, or diverting prescribed drugs for sale to others.
Physicians in Illinois are able to access similar data for several neighboring states; Missouri, however, does not operate such a program, which may result in pills being imported across the Illinois border. In fact, Missouri is the only state in the entire United States without such a program. Prescription information from Express Scripts indicates that residents of the eight states bordering Missouri travel there to fill their prescriptions more often than Missouri residents travel to other states to fill theirs.
We urge our neighbor to the west to initiate a prescription monitoring program to help protect patients and their families on both sides of the border.
Dr. William A. McDade
President, Illinois State Medical Society