Doctors say online opioid database is helping

Many point to the overprescription of opioids such as oxycodone as one of the causes of the heroin epidemic, and with tens of thousands of people dying from opioid overdoses each year, doctors say it’s more important than ever to responsibly prescribe legal opioids. An online tool is helping them do so.

“Eighty percent of heroin users started by abusing prescription drugs,” said Dr. Chris Eberlein, Gundersen Health System emergency medicine physician. “That’s a big number.”

That’s why Eberlein said part of the solution must be found right in the doctor’s office.

A statewide electronic database lets doctors see certain patient information, such as if they’ve been prescribed opioids elsewhere, before writing a prescription.

It shows if any medications may interact poorly with an opioid and the total amount of narcotics a patient is prescribed, “so we know if you’re above a danger level,” Eberlein said. “We have a limited time with the patient, and if we can be more efficient and get the whole picture of what’s going on with the patient and provide better care, that’s really the power of this database.”

The website was updated a year ago and became mandatory for Wisconsin providers and physicians to use nine months ago.

“It’s just become a part of our routine now,” said Dr. Cheri Olson, Family Medicine associate director at Mayo Clinic Health System.

While checking the database means a few extra steps for doctors like Olson, she said it’s worth it.

“Physicians love it in terms of what it can tell us about the patients,” she said. “It is an overdue thing.”

She’s found herself writing fewer opioid prescriptions.

“The days of getting ready refills and years worth of medicines are gone,” Olson said. “There’s going to be more scrutiny of pain programs and prescriptions.”

While both she and Eberlein say opioid prescriptions are on the decline, the number of overdose deaths is not.

“It means we have to continue to be vigilant,” Olson said.

“We have to work at prevention and treatment,” Eberlein said. “This prescription drug database is a big player, but it’s not going to solve everything.”

According to data from the prescription drug monitoring program’s website, opioid prescriptions went down in Wisconsin after the program became mandatory.

Both doctors said prescription opioids do still play an important role in medicine, especially for older patients with established regimens, or patients with cancer or acute pain.

Although the database is statewide, doctors can also check with the more than 30 other states, including Minnesota and Iowa, that have also opted to use the database.