CURES Update: California’s Online Prescription Drug Data Base Offline, No Funding in Sight
Until recently a doctor could instantly check CURES, California’s real time online data base, to see if the new patient sitting in front of him/her, seeking a prescription for pain medication, was “doctor shopping” — going from doctor to doctor to get multiple prescriptions for the same medications. Such a pattern red flags addiction. Pharmacists could check the same data base to discover if the patient was “pharmacy hopping” – filling the same prescriptions at another pharmacy, another red flag for addiction.
Based on my discussions with physicians and pharmacists, the data base which is run by the California Department of Justice, has helped them point out the obvious to addicts and convince some of them to seek treatment.
Now no more. CURES still exists; pharmacists still report the narcotics prescriptions they fill every six days and the CURES data base was recently used by law enforcement officials investigating Whitney Houston’s death. But funding for CURES ended in 2011 and there is now no way for doctors and pharmacists to access the data base real time.
As we reported in earlier stories about CURES, Bob Pack is the software engineer who in 2009 took responsibility for modernizing the state’s 70 year old antiquated Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). He convinced State Senator Mark DeSaulnier to author SB 1071 to fund CURES with a miniscule tax on some the nation’s very large and profitable pharmaceutical companies.
It was envisioned that every time a prescription was filled in California for a Schedule II or Schedule III narcotic, the manufacturer would forward to the State coffers approximately 25 cents to keep CURES up and running. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, which regulates manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances, has five drug schedules. Here are the drugs included in Schedule II, and here are the drugs included in Schedule III.
On May 5, 2010 I flew to Sacramento with alumni Krissie Bergo and Laurie Kelsoe. Krissie and I both spoke at the State Senate Press Conference in support of SB 1071, and then Krissie, Laurie and I spoke at the State Senate Health Committee Hearing in support of SB 1071. The bill failed because a single Committee member, a Democrat who had pledged to vote yes, suddenly voted no. She was then running for a statewide office. Perhaps not by chance just before she voted no she was observed on Senate’s closed circuit TV system having an impromptu tete a tete with a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.
I cringe every time I read on the website of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse reports about yet another state which got its PDMP up and running while California’s pioneering PDMP withers.
The most recent state is Kentucky – ranked 47th in median household income, 47th in high school graduation rate and 48th in percentage of the population below the poverty line. Kentucky not only now has a functioning PDMP but requires all doctors who prescribe federally controlled drugs to refer to the PDMP before writing prescriptions.
How to remedy the situation? An informal meeting was scheduled today between the Attorney General and Legislative Staff (from Senator De Saulnier’s Office) to discuss with lack of funding for CURES. We don’t know the outcome yet.
Pack, who estimates prescription drug abuse is costing California about $7 billion annually, is collecting signatures to put on the June ballot a measure to raise about $7 million per year to support the CURES program. The ballot measure includes an educational component for doctors , pharmacists and consumers.
There Ought to Be a Law.
We propose that in addition to collecting funding from the nation’s pharmaceutical companies, the Department of Justice impose a “CURES fine” on any California doctor convicted of over prescribing or wrongly prescribing.
Dr. Daniel J. Healy of Duarte would have been an ideal donor. In April 2010 Healy was sentenced to four years for “prescribing powerful and highly addictive pain killers to people who had no medical need for the drugs.” Healy ordered more than 1 million tablets of hydrocodone (vicodin) in 2008 — more than any other doctor and 10 times more than the average American pharmacy. According to the Los Angeles Times Healy was making so much [illicit] money he kept an automatic money-counting machine in his office.
Dr. Nazar Al Bussam, “California’s top prescriber of narcotic painkillers” also would have been an ideal donor. In October 2011 he was sentenced to 7 years in prison. According to the Los Angeles Times, over a two year period Al Bussam deposited $1.8 million in cash into multiple bank accounts.
Dr. Lisa Tseng, of Roland Heights is still a potential donor. She was arrested March 1, 2012 and charged with second degree murder after three of her patients died from prescription drug overdoses. Some reports say that she and her physician husband paid $5 million in cash for their office building.