More than two years after Georgia lawmakers agreed to create it, a database that tracks prescription drug use finally is up and running.
The database -- called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program -- became available to pharmacists on July 1. Doctors, dentists and physicians' assistants got access July 26. And the people running the database hope they soon can make it available to nurse practitioners.
The program is designed to cut down on prescription drug abuse by checking whether people are getting multiple prescriptions from an array of doctors or already have received medications.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the program into law in May 2011, but creating the database took a long time, said Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency that runs the state's program: finding a two-year federal grant and a Web company approved by the feds to host the database.
Finally, in February, the contract went to Health Information Designs, an Auburn, Ala., company that operates these types of databases across the country. On May 15, all pharmacies in Georgia had to start submitting their prescription information to Health Information Designs.
About a month and a half later, pharmacists could start accessing the database as customers approached them with prescriptions. Now, Allen said, about 2,300 medical professionals are using the program.
Allen expects that number to rise. Doctors, dentists and physicians' assistants have been allowed to use the database for only two and a half weeks, and some haven't registered to use it yet. The narcotics department is waiting for the Board of Registered Nursing to let the state have access to the practitioners' databases. Then, he said, the agency will let nurse practitioners look at the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
Allen isn't sure about the program's future. That initial grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance runs out Sept. 30 and the agency doesn't have another way to pay Health Information Designs the $11,000 or $12,000 it charges each month.
"Everything depends on our getting an extension to our grant," Allen said.
By law, pharmacies are not required to use the database. It is only an available option, though Allen hopes state law one day will mandate its use. Right now, on average, about 15 percent of medical practitioners in states with the database use the program.
Phil Talley, a pharmacist at Chickamauga Drug Store, said he sends information to GDNA every week about who is getting prescription medication from him. But he isn't accessing the database. He said he never received any notice telling him he could use it.
But Madison Ledford of Ledford RX Express Pharmacy in LaFayette, Ga., has been checking the database since July 12. He said it's easy. You just log in, type the customer's name and check his or her medication history.
When Ledford started using the program, there was one slight hiccup. Sometimes, people need a cream or a lotion that consists of several different medications. And sometimes the ingredients include a pinch of a controlled substance.
When Ledford reported these creams and lotions, he said, a flag in the system went up. The sale looked like a drug deal, right in the middle of the pharmacy. That glitch, he said, was fixed within about two weeks.
Ledford doesn't know how many people he has caught getting multiple prescriptions for the same drug, but he estimates that the number is about two or three people each week.
"It's also a deterrent," he said. "Just tell them that you're reporting it, and they won't do it."
Contact Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@ timesfreepress.com.