Pennsylvania Joins in Combating Opioid Epidemic

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently signed Act 96 into law. This mandates Pennsylvania providers to electronically prescribe controlled substances II-V within a year of the bill passing.

The goal is to eliminate fraud associated with written prescriptions. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2016, there were 2,235 opioid-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. Prescription opioid overdoses alone increased from 411 to 729 deaths since 2010 [1].  The bill focuses on illegal drug diversion and combating the opioid epidemic. Between June 2017 and June 2018, eight drug gang arrests for illegal paper prescriptions were made in Pennsylvania, totaling more than 60,000 illegally diverted opioid prescriptions[2].

Providers who do not follow suit with the new law can face charges of $100 up to $5,000 per year. However, there are some exceptions which include:

  • When electronic prescribing is unavailable due to temporary technological or electrical failure
  • Prescriptions issued by a practitioner and dispensed by a pharmacy located outside the Commonwealth
  • Prescriptions issued by a practitioner in an emergency department or health care facility when an electronic prescription would be impractical or would cause undue delay
  • For a patient in a hospice, nursing home or residential health care facility
  • For controlled substance compounded prescriptions and prescriptions containing elements that are not able to be accomplished with electronic prescribing
  • For a prescription issued pursuant to a valid collaborative practice agreement, a standing order or a drug research protocol
  • For a prescription issued in an emergency situation
  • The pharmacy receiving the prescription is not set up to process electronic prescriptions; and
  • For controlled substances that are not required to be reported to the prescription monitoring program system.

If providers do not meet an exception, they do have the option to apply for an exemption based upon economic hardship, technical limitations, or exceptional circumstances.

Pennsylvania now aligns with many other states headed towards mandating electronic prescribing. MDToolbox looks forward to working with providers throughout Pennsylvania to ease the transition and help provide tools and resources in combating the opioid epidemic. With MDToolbox providers have access to tools such as Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS) and convenient on the go mobile e-prescribing.  Contact us for more information or to start your free 30 day free trial.

Federal Opioid e-Prescribing Law Passes

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This week President Trump signed into law the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act1. The legislation is aimed at combating the opioid epidemic by focusing on several information technology tools that help prevent prescription fraud and abuse.

One of those tools is e-Prescribing. One of the more than 60 policies included is the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act. Beginning in January 2021, prescribers will be required to electronically prescribe controlled substances for Schedule II-V drugs covered under a Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage prescription drug plan. While many states have enacted their own laws requiring e-Prescribing, this is the first federal mandate.

Another tool included in the law is electronic prior authorization. Also by January 2021, electronic prior authorization will be required for Medicare Part D covered drugs. Electronic prescription programs will be required to securely transmit the requests. A facsimile, proprietary payer portal, or an electronic form that does not meet the standards will not be counted as an electronic submission.

The legislation also contains provisions to enhance states’ Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). The goal is to ensure each state has a PDMP, improve their functionality, make sure all prescribers are utilizing the systems, and foster data sharing between states. Beginning October 1, 2021 States must require health care providers to check their PDMP for a Medicaid enrollee's prescription drug history before prescribing controlled substances to the enrollee.

MDToolbox applauds this bipartisan legislation. We are continually encouraging providers to take advantage of the technologies we provide including Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS) and Electronic Prior Authorization (e-PA) as they are important tools to use in fighting the devastating opioid epidemic. Putting these federal mandates in place is an important step towards fully utilizing the available technology to save lives. 

 

1. H.R.6 - SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6

 

Massachusetts To Require Electronically Prescribing Controlled Substances

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently signed a bill that will require prescribers to electronically prescribe controlled substances.  The bill, An Act for Prevention and Access to Appropriate Care and Treatment of Addiction1, is intended to address the growing opioid problem. The opioid epidemic has claimed more than 2,000 lives in Massachusetts in both 2016 and 2017.

As the name of the new expansive law indicates, it’s focused on strengthening education and prevention efforts, strengthening intervention and harm reduction strategies, and improving access to treatment. Two focuses of prevention relate specifically to prescribers:

  • Mandates prescribers to send controlled substance prescriptions electronically starting January 1, 2020.
  • Requires prescribers to check the state prescription monitoring program (PMP) each time a prescription for a schedule II or III, or a benzodiazepine is issued.

“The opioid and heroin crisis has tragically claimed scores of lives and broken families across the Commonwealth, and this new bill will serve as our latest tool kit to address the public health crisis through increased access to treatment, education, and prevention,” Baker said. “While there is still much work to do, this bipartisan bill will support the fight against this horrible epidemic by holding providers more accountable for prescribing practices, taking stronger steps to intervene earlier in a person’s life, and expanding access to recovery coaches.”

MDToolbox urges prescribers to take full advantage of e-Prescribing and to not only send controlled substances electronically, but all prescriptions as soon as possible. The opioid epidemic continues to worsen and this is an easy way for prescribers to help combat it. Currently, a meager 15% of prescribers in Massachusetts are enabled for EPCS. Prescribers shouldn’t view it as a new technological burden, but as a tool they can use in their practice to aid in their day to day prescribing tasks.  By prescribing all prescriptions electronically in one easy workflow, both time and money will be saved. MDToolbox offers all prescribers a free 30 day trial to see just how beneficial e-Prescribing and EPCS can be. Contact us for more information.

1. https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2018/Chapter208

Senate Passes Bill Requiring EPCS

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Earlier this week, the United States Senate passed The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The bill is focused on battling the opioid epidemic and was almost unanimously passed with a 99-1 vote. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths killed an estimated 72,000 Americans in 2017 and the total estimated "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. The bill provides $3.8 billion in funding.

The bill contains a large number of different proposals from five Senate committees. One of those proposals requires prescribers to electronically prescribe controlled substance prescriptions for Medicare Part-D covered medications. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would be responsible for specifying a list of exceptions and outlining the penalties for failing to comply with the e-prescribing requirement. 

Other provisions in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 include:

1.       The STOP ACT—to stop illegal drugs, including fentanyl, at the border
2.       New non-addictive painkillers, research and fast-track
3.       Blister packs for opioids, such as a 3 or 7-day supply
4.       More medication–assisted treatment
5.       Prevent “doctor-shopping” by improving state prescription drug monitoring programs
6.       More behavioral and mental health providers
7.       Support for comprehensive opioid recovery centers
8.       Help for babies born in opioid withdrawal
9.       Help for mothers with opioid use disorders
10.     More early intervention with vulnerable children who have experienced trauma

This bill comes after similar legislation passed through the House in June. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said he is working to combine the bills "into an even stronger law to fight the nation’s worst public health crisis, and there is a bipartisan sense of urgency to send the bill to the President quickly." A combined version is expected to reach President Donald Trump’s desk for signing by early October.

California Prescribers Required to Check State Database

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Starting October 2, 2018, prescribers in California will be required to check the state’s prescription monitoring database, Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), before prescribing Schedule II, III, or IV drugs. California is one of 39 states that mandate prescribers to check prescription monitoring databases in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic. By checking a database before prescribing, prescribers can identify “doctor shoppers” who go from doctor to doctor to obtain multiple prescriptions.

Prescribers will now be required to check CURES if it is the first time prescribing the scheduled drug for the patient or if it has been four months since the last time they checked the database for the patient. The check must be completed no earlier than 24 hours or the previous business day prior to the prescribing, ordering, administering or furnishing of a controlled substance to the patient.

All prescribers who were authorized to prescribe or dispense Schedule II-IV controlled substances were originally required to just register to use CURES by July 1, 2016. The requirement to check the database was to start six months after the state certified the database was ready. The California Department of Justice (DOJ) certified CURES was ready for statewide use on April 2, 2018.

If prescribers do not comply, it could result in disciplinary proceedings against a practitioner’s license. The Medical Board of California states in their CURES Mandatory Use FAQs1, “Failing to consult CURES is a violation of the law and it could result in the issuance of a citation and fine, or could be a cause of action In an accusation that leads to disciplinary action. Disciplinary action could be a public reprimand, suspension, probation, or revocation. Each violation of the law is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

The Medical Board of California also recommends that prescribers either note in the patient’s chart that they checked the CURES database or print the report and put it in the patient’s file to document that the check was completed.

MDToolbox makes it convenient for prescribers to check CURES by providing a link directly to the database from within the prescription writer. The system also automatically makes note that the database was checked for the prescriber. For more information and to request a free trial, see California E-Prescribing or contact us at info@mdtoolbox.com.

 

1. Medical Board of California CURES Mandatory Use FAQs http://www.mbc.ca.gov/Licensees/Prescribing/CURES/CURES_FAQ.pdf?utm_source=link&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CURES&utm_content=faq

Oklahoma Latest State to Require E-Prescribing to Prevent Opioid Abuse

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Oklahoma recently became the latest state to enact an e-prescribing law in order to prevent opioid abuse. Governor Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 29311 which will require prescribers in Oklahoma to electronically prescribe Schedule II through V controlled substances starting January 1, 2020.

The bill allows for a few exemptions in certain circumstances such as for veterinarians or prescriptions that are administered through an on-site pharmacy at facilities like nursing homes. It also states that waivers or extensions can be granted through the licensing board. There aren’t any details on what will constitute a waiver or extension at this time though. Other states who offer waivers and extensions will grant them for reasons like a lack of proper technology such as internet or computers.

If a prescriber is granted an e-prescribing waiver, they will be required to use official prescription forms provided by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Pharmacists will not be required to verify that a prescription falls under an exception.

Currently, only 12% of prescribers in Oklahoma are enabled for EPCS. However, 96% of pharmacies are able to receive electronic controlled substance prescriptions.

Attorney General Mike Hunter is convinced requiring e-Prescribing “will have a material impact on this leakage of opioids into the hands of addicts.” E-prescribing can help put a stop to prescriptions being forged which an opioid task force found out could easily be done. During their research, a real prescription was scanned, altered, and printed on security paper. Almost all experts, including pharmacists and DEA agents, were fooled by the fake prescription. Tulsa County Director of Governmental Affairs Terry Simonson said, “It was so easy. It was just kind of mind-boggling that that's all it took.”

E-Prescribing offers many benefits in addition to preventing forged prescriptions. MDToolbox can help prescribers in Oklahoma, as well as nationwide, start utilizing all of those benefits. See Oklahoma E-Prescribing for more information or to request a free trial to start e-Prescribing today.

 

   1. http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf_pdf/2017-18%20ENR/hB/HB2931%20ENR.PDF

Walmart to Limit Opioid Prescriptions and Require EPCS

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Walmart recently announced they will be implementing two new policies aimed at combating opioid abuse1. They include:

  • Restrict initial acute opioid prescriptions to no more than a seven-day supply, with up to a 50 morphine milligram equivalent maximum per day
  • Require e-prescriptions for controlled substances (EPCS)

The policies will apply to all Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies in the United States and Puerto Rico. The 7-day limit policy is set to be enforced within the next 60 days. The EPCS requirement will not go into place until January 1, 2020 but it is an important piece since electronic prescriptions prevent fraud and minimize errors.

While many states have either already implemented or are in the process of implementing laws to limit opioids and require EPCS, this is the first large pharmacy chain we have seen implement such measures. Some states limit opioid prescriptions to fewer than 7 days in which case they will default to the state law.

“We are taking action in the fight against the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Marybeth Hays, executive vice president of Health & Wellness and Consumables, Walmart U.S. “We are proud to implement these policies and initiatives as we work to create solutions that address this critical issue facing the patients and communities we serve.”

Walmart also plans to give access to the controlled substance tool, Narxcare, to all pharmacists, provide naloxone recommendations for patients at risk of overdose, and have additional trainings and education on opioid stewardship by the end of this summer.

At MDToolbox, we agree that these are all important measures to take in the fight against the opioid epidemic. We continually urge prescribers not to wait for such policies to be enacted and to start e-Prescribing controlled substances as soon as possible. Find out more about EPCS or contact us for a demo to see how easy it is to implement.

1. https://news.walmart.com/2018/05/07/walmart-introduces-additional-measures-to-help-curb-opioid-abuse-and-misuse

Electronic Prescription Directions Vary Greatly in Content and Quality

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Electronic prescriptions allow for providers to enter any free-text directions (Sig) they wish, just as if they were writing a paper prescription. The patient directions are one of the most critical parts of a prescription. It’s a huge safety risk if patients do not understand how to use their prescription or if a pharmacist has to try to interpret what the provider means. In a recent study that analyzed 25,000 electronic prescriptions issued by 22,152 community-based prescribers using 501 e-prescribing software applications, it was found that there was a large number of variations in the electronic prescription directions1. The quality of the directions also varied greatly.

The study was conducted by Yuze Yang, PharmD, from Surescripts and colleagues, and published online in the Journal of Managed Care & Specialty Pharmacy. Out of the 25,000 e-prescriptions, there were 3,797 unique Sigs concepts identified in the Sig text strings. However, more than half of all patient directions could be classified into just 25 unique Sig concepts. There were large numbers of variation of even what would be considered simple and straightforward directions found. For example, over 800 permutations of words and phrases used to convey "take one tablet by mouth once daily" were identified.

The researchers not only looked at the variations, they also analyzed the Sig text strings for quality-related events which were defined as “Sig text content that could impair accurate and unambiguous interpretation by staff at receiving pharmacies.” The biggest quality issue observed was incomplete Sigs. Prescriptions were commonly missing relevant dosages or administration frequency/timing information. They found that more than one in ten prescriptions contained some sort of quality issue.  Considering the number of electronic prescriptions that are sent and the not only time-wasting potential but possibly catastrophic results that could come from such quality issues, that figure is way too high.

The authors' recommendations for reducing the quality issues and variations include:

  • Enhancing e-prescribing application user interfaces and Sig creation tools
  • Improving end-user training and usability testing for optimal use of system functionalities
  • Adopting and implementing the currently available Structured and Codified Sig format by both prescriber and pharmacy systems to facilitate improved standardization and interoperability

At MDToolbox, patient safety and ease of use for prescribers are two of our main focuses when designing our directions input fields. We offer several options designed to make entering quality directions as easy as possible:

  • Sig builder – build complete directions in just a few easy clicks
  • Common Sigs – choose from the most commonly used Sigs already available in the system
  • Saved favorite directions – prescribers can enter directions that they commonly use and save them as a favorite with a shortcut that can be quickly accessed
  • Free-text directions – although free-text directions open it up to possible quality errors, MDToolbox has implemented quality checkers to ensure that free-text directions are not missing any of the information the contributes to many of the quality issues such as “how much” or “how often” the prescription should be used.

MDToolbox is also constantly looking for ways like our quality checkers to enhance these areas even more. Part of the way we do this is by conducting usability tests and end-user trainings in order to get feedback from users and ensure users are taking advantage of the available tools. We share a goal with Surescripts to have zero-error e-prescribing and are continually striving towards this goal.

 

  1. Quality and Variability of Patient Directions in Electronic Prescriptions in the Ambulatory Care Setting https://www.jmcp.org/doi/10.18553/jmcp.2018.17404 

Mandated Nationwide E-Prescribing of Controlled Substances Proposed in Bipartisan Senate Bill

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Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely (EPCS) Act. Under the act, all controlled substance prescriptions under Medicare would have to be sent electronically. The aim of the bill is to combat the opioid epidemic by preventing fraudulent prescriptions and doctor shopping.

The legislation was introduced by four senators: Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania.

As we wrote about previously, companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in July by Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA). House bill 35281 has a lot of bipartisan support with 21 cosponsoring representatives including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

“We need to be using every tool at our disposal to fight the opioid epidemic,” Warren said in a statement2. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Bennet on a bipartisan bill that will help gather better data on the opioid epidemic while also helping health care providers make the best decisions for their patients.”

A Department of Justice report recently released found that misused prescription opioids are often obtained illegally using forged or altered prescriptions and by consulting multiple doctors. It was also found that most prescription fraud remains undetected.

“An epidemic of this magnitude requires us to address all aspects of the problem, starting with how providers prescribe opioids,” Bennet said in the statement. "This bipartisan legislation would expand a critical tool to track the use of opioids, ultimately reducing overdoses and saving lives."

Toomey added to the statement, “This commonsense measure will help improve tracking of opioid prescribing and reduce diversion due to forged prescriptions. This is a simple but important step in the direction of curbing opioid abuse.” Heller further added by stating, “This bipartisan legislation takes a critical step toward eliminating doctor shopping and duplicative or fraudulent prescriptions.”

The bill is proposed to go into effect in 2020 and does allow for some exceptions. These include prescriptions generated and dispensed by the same entity, economic hardship, technological limitations and other exceptional circumstances.

At MDToolbox, we strongly encourage all providers to not wait for legislation and to take advantage of the benefits of e-Prescribing controlled substances as soon as possible. It not only prevents fraud but makes things easier for prescribers as well. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about getting started with EPCS and offer a free 30 day trial so that you can see how quick and easy it is.

 

1.       H.R.3528 - Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3528
2.       Warren, Bennet, Heller, Toomey Introduce Bill to Combat Opioid Crisis with E-Prescriptions https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/warren-bennet-heller-toomey-introduce-bill-to-combat-opioid-crisis-with-e-prescriptions

Iowa Considering Mandated E-Prescribing

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Iowa is the latest state to consider legislation that would require electronic prescribing. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy suggested Senate Study Bill 30741 which would require all prescriptions to be sent electronically. Like several other states with similar enacted and proposed legislation, lawmakers in Iowa hope to curb the opioid epidemic with this bill.

Executive director of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, Andrew Funk, informed senators that currently 65% of Iowa prescriptions for non-addictive drugs are sent electronically, but only 9% of prescriptions for addictive drugs are electronic. This leaves a lot of room for fraudulent prescriptions.

Iowa Senator Tom Greene, a former pharmacist, is all too familiar with forged paper prescriptions. "A patient presented me with a prescription for sleeping medication-a controlled substance," said Greene. "And the doctor had ordered ten tablets. Well, the patient changed the one-zero to a four-zero. There are cases like that out there, and again electronic prescribing and the electronic transmission of that information is very accurate." Lawmakers hope that in addition to preventing phony prescriptions, it would also help with mistakes caused by handwritten prescriptions. Prescriptions sent electronically eliminate the possibilities for patients to alter them, as well as remove the potential for pharmacists to misinterpret illegible prescriptions.

The bill allows for providers to ask for temporary exemptions if they aren’t able to meet the requirements in time, but any prescriber without an exemption would be subject to $250 fines per violation of the law, up to $5,000 per year. There are also exemptions for prescriptions for patients in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or jail, as well as veterinary prescriptions. In addition, the bill states the requirements do not apply to compound prescriptions containing two or more components and prescriptions requiring “information that makes electronic submission impractical, such as complicated or lengthy directions for use or attachments.”

As the bill is written now, it would begin July 1, 2019. Some lobbyists, however, feel that this is too soon especially for rural hospitals and physicians. They are pushing for the date to moved to July 1, 2020. Senator Greene and two other senators on the subcommittee were said to informally agree to a compromise of January 1, 2020.

One of the great things about our stand-alone web-based e-Prescribing products is that there is not a lot of setup needed. As long as a prescriber has a device that can access the internet (computer, tablet, or phone), they can send their prescriptions electronically. While sending controlled substances electronically does require a 2nd device to electronically sign the prescription, it is as simple as using a phone or key fob.  Most prescribers can get setup and start e-Prescribing with MDToolbox in just a matter of minutes. There is no need to stress about putting complex systems in place or wait until the deadline. To see how quick and easy it is, sign up for a free trial or request a demo here.

 

1.  https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SSB3074