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State expands ID check for drugs

Targets abuse, overdose deaths

By Carolyn Y. Johnson
Globe Staff / January 1, 2011

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People picking up certain prescriptions at the pharmacy will have to show a photo identification starting today, as new state health regulations intended to prevent prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths take effect.

Patients filling prescriptions for a category of drugs that includes OxyContin and other powerful painkillers have long had to show photo ID. But beginning today, the ID requirement is expanded to several new categories of drugs, including certain types of pain medications, sedatives, and antianxiety drugs such as Ativan and Valium.

“The message we should send to people is if you’re going to pick up medication this weekend, bring photo ID,’’ said Alice Bonner, director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

She added that the vast majority of drugs — for example, commonly used blood pressure medication, asthma prescriptions, and cholesterol-lowering drugs — will not require identification. There are also procedures in place to ensure that people who do not have photo ID can work with pharmacists to fill their prescriptions.

The policy was announced in August, as part of an effort to increase the state’s ability to monitor prescription drugs that could be abused and to stop addicts who are “doctor shopping,’’ leapfrogging among doctors in order to get prescriptions. Starting this month, an online tracking system will be updated each week, allowing doctors and pharmacists to see if a patient has frequently filled prescriptions for powerful painkillers or other drugs that could be abused.

There are several categories, or schedules of drugs, and the state is expanding the list of drugs that require ID beyond Schedule 2 drugs such as OxyContin or Percocet. Now, drugs classified in Schedules 3, 4, and 5, which can range from cough medicine with codeine to anti-anxiety pills, will also require ID.

The reason, Bonner said, is that research has found an increase in overdose deaths when powerful drugs such as the ones in Schedule 2 are combined with those in Schedules 3, 4, and 5.

Dr. Alice A. Coombs, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said the new system will give doctors a powerful tool to help prevent prescription drug abuse, which can require costly emergency care and cause death.

“Balance is going to be the art of this law,’’ Coombs said. “Being able to walk this fine line between protecting patient information, yet being able to recognize and identify abuses of pharmacology, abuses of medicine when it happens, so there can be an intervention.’’

Bonner said the state has been working closely with large chains and community pharmacies to prepare them for the new requirements.

This weekend, additional staff will be working in the state’s drug control program to make sure the new requirements go into effect smoothly.

“The rising number of overdose deaths from prescription drug abuse is a very significant problem in Massachusetts,’’ said Bonner. “Doctors and pharmacists can now check the prescriptions that are already being given to a particular patient, so that if there’s a dangerous interaction or if there’s already a lot of narcotics or dangerous drugs being prescribed, they can have a conversation with patient.’’

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com.