No one can dispute the good work being done to focus on one of the biggest public health issues currently facing our society—prescription drug abuse. Just last year in Connecticut more than 700 people died from an overdose. That number is double what it was just a few years ago.
From small towns in Connecticut to our nation’s capital, lawmakers, law enforcement, the medical community and those who advocate for patients are coming together like never before to stop this crisis from growing worse and destroying yet another life.
But while we need to do everything we can to stop the abuse, we must also be cautious to not create other problems for patients in our state.
The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is one tool that states, including Connecticut are using to help track the prescribing of potentially addictive medications, and to prevent those who are abusing prescription drugs from jumping from doctor to doctor to feed their addiction.
We must remember however, that just as not everyone who takes a medication is an addict, not all medications pose a threat. And in some cases, a patient’s medication can make the difference between having a functional life or being held hostage by the constraints of their disease.
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies substances that are tracked by the PDMP into classes, or schedules as they are known—Schedules I-V. Schedule I drugs are the most addictive, Schedule V the least.
Requiring reporting of Schedule V drugs is unnecessarily burdensome and will not make a difference in the crackdown on prescription drug abuse. These medications are simply not the ones addicts are going after. There’s not enough of a narcotic substance in these medications to get the desired high. And those we’re talking about excluding contain no opioids at all.
On the flip side, these medications do make a huge difference in the lives of the patients who are taking them for legitimate medical needs. Many of the patients we serve are prescribed Schedule V medications to manage their epilepsy.
Those living with epilepsy are among the most vulnerable to changes in their medication regimens. Even the slightest dosage change can lead to major setbacks and increased seizures, which can have dangerous, even fatal results.
Unnecessary reporting requirements for these medications puts an added burden on doctors and their staffs, creates an undue stigma around these medications and the patients who need them, and could jeopardize patient’s getting the most effective treatment.
Eighteen states including our New England neighbors Maine and Rhode Island have chosen to exclude Schedule V substances from monitoring requirements. Connecticut should do the same.
While we need to do everything possible from keeping another person from being addicted to prescription medications, we need to fight the problem the right way, and not put unnecessary barriers around medications that are critical to many patients’ wellbeing.
Linda Wallace is Executive Director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut.