A congressional subcommittee is looking for solutions in the Medicare and Medicaid systems to stop prescription drug abuse.


Thursday morning Medical experts testified at a hearing before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care in Washington. D.C.


U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is the committee's chairman and says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers prescription drug abuse an epidemic. In his opening statement, Rockefeller said prescription drugs can work wonders for millions of people with conditions like chronic pain or severe mental illness.


“But the availability of powerful prescription drugs has in some ways gotten ahead of our ability to prescribe them safely,” Rockefeller said. “Prescribers don’t have the tools they need; they don’t have sometimes the education in medical schools focused on this.”


Among those testifying at the hearing was Dr. Jeffrey Coben, director of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University.


Coben said public insurance programs like Medicaid and Medicare can do things to help stop the problem.


“These include the expanded use of real time analysis of claims data to identify potential cases of doctor shopping and other forms of abuse, the expanded use of drug utilization reviews, particularly those that can be implemented at the point of sale, and the expanded use of single provider, single pharmacist lock in programs for individuals who have been identified as abusers,” Coben said.


Coben pointed out that Medicare and Medicaid have also promoted electronic health record sharing and e-prescribing, two tools that could also help reduce prescription drug abuse.


Coben said more attention should also be paid to treatment.


“Providing beneficiaries with coverage for treatment and reimbursing providers for screening is another important role for Medicaid programs,” he said.


Another tool Coben suggested for combating prescription drug abuse is the medical home model of health care where a primary care physician coordinates with other providers to treat patients. He said it’s also important to look at the drugs themselves.


“Safer and equally effective pain relievers can be developed and tamper proof drug dispensing units can limit the quantity of medications available,” Coben said. “As these products increasingly come to market both Medicare Part D and Medicaid programs will need to consider the potential benefits and costs of adding them to their formularies.”


Coben told the subcommittee statistics don’t adequately describe the ravages of prescription drug abuse.


“As a practicing emergency physician I have seen the pain and torment of families who have lost a family member from overdose, I’ve seen children removed from their homes and I’ve seen shootings, stabbings and suicide all as a direct consequence of prescription drug abuse,” he said.


Coben says he can attest to the benefits of prescription pain medicine, but more needs to be done to balance appropriate use with preventing abuse.