Getting to the Bottom of Prescription Drug Overdose

A Rhode Island hospital plans to study the drug habits of its state and the neighbors.

A Rhode Island Hospital research study aimed at reducing the state's leading cause of accidental death among adults, will be supported by a $250,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The researchers will explore the use and effectiveness of statewide prescription monitoring programs (PMP) in reducing the number of accidental overdose deaths involving prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin in both Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The grant is one of only two projects awarded nationally this year by CDC for unintentional poisoning research. The study will be funded through an award from The Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC.

Overdose claims the lives of nearly two RI residents each week, making its mortality rate more prevalent than motor vehicle accidents. Nationally, more overdose deaths are caused by prescription drugs than all illegal drugs combined. Surveillance data from 2007 ranked RI among the top third in the country for prescription opioid abuse.

The study will involve a rapid assessment and response project, which is a community-driven process that gathers information and locally-relevant recommendations to address a pressing health problem. The project will focus on two communities - one in Rhode Island and one in Connecticut - that have been identified as more hard-hit by prescription opioid abuse and overdose deaths.

Traci Green, PhD, MSc, a research scientist with Rhode Island Hospital, will lead the study that will investigate PMPs in both Rhode Island and Connecticut to understand how they may positively impact these growing trends.

“The problem of prescription opioid abuse and overdose is at a critical point,” Green said, in a press release. “We've seen that prescription monitoring programs can influence diversion and access to medications that could potentially be abused, but they are also a source of unique public health data on how much drug is being prescribed, to whom, by whom, and when and where these medications are being filled." Green comments further, "Our goal with this study is to see if we can put the PMP data to use for public health surveillance and to inform preventative action.”

Green and her colleagues will study all accidental overdose deaths among adults in CT and RI in 2009 that involve a prescription opioid. The team plans to do so by linking data from the PMPs and other state agencies.

The researchers hope to be able to refine the definition of “doctor shopping.” They will also compare the use of the RI and CT PMPs as a component of clinical care and potential overdose prevention tool for prescribers and dispensers through a survey of RI and CT health professionals.

The team will attempt to evaluate the data to identify communities particularly hard-hit by prescription opioid abuse and overdose deaths. Green's research team will then provide strategic support to one community in each state to carry out an evaluation and develop a locally relevant response to the problem.

Green said the study is already underway and is expected to be completed by September 2012.

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How familiar are you with your state's prescription monitoring program? Do you feel these programs help make a difference?