The facts about prescription monitoring programs

A lot of states are fighting prescription drug abuse by setting up prescription monitoring programs (PMPs). You might want to know how this type of program affects you or the people you care about. If you’re in a lot of pain, you may wonder if PMPs will make it harder for you to get your medicine when you need it. Here are answers to questions that you may have about prescription monitoring programs.

What information does a prescription monitoring program collect?

Monitoring programs don’t track all prescriptions, only medications that can be abused. These medications, called controlled substances, include some pain medications (opioid or narcotic medications); medications that make you calm or sleepy (sedative or tranquilizer medications); and some stimulant medications that are often used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.)

If your state has a PMP, then every time you fill a prescription for a controlled substance like morphine or oxycodone, this information will go into the computer system. Stored information usually includes:

  • Facts about the prescriber (name, address, and identification number)
  • Medication information (the type and amount given to you)
  • Your personal information (including your name and address).

PMPs only track your prescriptions; they don’t store any of your medical history and they aren’t tied to any medical record system.

Who can see my information?

State law puts limits on who can see your information. In most cases, someone who wants to see a PMP report has to ask for it – it’s not sent automatically. Usually, healthcare providers and pharmacists registered with the PMP can ask for reports, but they can only get them on people they’re treating. Many states let other groups (like the police or medical licensing boards) see prescription monitoring reports, but only for very specific reasons.

Why do state governments set up prescription monitoring programs?

Abuse of prescription opioid medication is a very serious problem in the U.S., and there’s a lot of pressure for the government to deal with it. Monitoring programs can help by showing:

  • If a person may be getting too much medicine at one time
  • If a person is doctor shopping (getting too much medication by going to several prescribers at once)

If a prescription monitoring report shows these warning signs, it could mean the person has an addiction problem. It could also mean that the person is giving or selling the medication to other people (called diversion). If dangerous situations like these are uncovered, medical or legal steps can be taken to keep that person and others safe.

Most states have laws in place to set up prescription monitoring programs, but these programs aren’t running in all states yet. There’s a link below for you to find out more about the PMP program in your state.

Can I “opt out” of the monitoring program?

No, you can’t opt out. If your state uses a prescription monitoring program, then every time you get a prescription filled for a controlled substance, your information will go into their computer system. In some states, mail-order pharmacies also have to report to the monitoring program in the state where the patient lives.

Will my prescription information still go into a computer if I pay for the medicine myself and don’t use insurance?

It doesn’t make any difference whether you have health insurance that pays for your prescriptions, or whether you pay for them with cash. In both cases, the state’s monitoring will keep track of your information if your state’s laws say it has to.

How can prescription monitoring programs help people with chronic pain?

People with chronic pain sometimes think that doctors (and other healthcare providers) worry too much about prescribing pain medication. Can’t the doctor(s) just see that they need their medication to get through the day? But it’s not that easy, and that’s where monitoring programs can help.

Monitoring programs can warn a provider that a patient may be abusing or selling his or her pain medicine — but they can also let doctors know when people are using their pain medication safely, too.

Here’s an example: let’s say that you’ve just seen a new doctor or that you’re being treated in an Emergency Room. The doctor may decide to not give you any opioid medication without looking at your prescription monitoring information. Then, if your report doesn’t show any warning signs (like seeing a lot of different doctors for the same type of pain medication), it can make your doctor feel better about prescribing you this medicine. So instead of the PMP getting in the way of your pain treatment, it could help you get the care you need.

Where can I learn more about prescription monitoring programs?

To learn more about the PMP in your state, go to the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs website.