Make PharmaNet check mandatory, report urges

published on November 24, 2015 by Mike Hager in The Globe and Mail

Forcing doctors to register with BC’s prescription database would help ensure patients are not receiving too many of the dangerous opioids behind fatal overdoses, addiction and other serious problems, according to a new report.

Less than a third of British Columbia’s physicians are using PharmaNet, the provincial system that records all prescriptions, according to a report released Tuesday by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and endorsed by 73 addictions and public health experts from around the province.

PharmaNet records data such as the drug name, dose, quantity, prescribing doctor and duration for all prescriptions dispensed in BC’s pharmacies. All pharmacists can access it and physicians working in BC’s methadone clinics or transient-care settings, such as hospital emergency departments or walk-in clinics, must be able to use it. But many other physicians have been reluctant to sign up and pay the $8 monthly fee to access PharmaNet, according to Evan Wood, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

That’s a huge problem, he said, because more than 70 per cent of the province’s doctors may be writing opioid prescriptions without knowing their patient’s history with the drugs or whether they are already being prescribed the dangerous form of pain medication from another doctor.

Without access to PharmaNet, doctors may also be unsure whether someone is receiving benzodiazepines, the risky pharmaceutical class of tranquilizers like valium or ativan that are often linked to opioid-related deaths in BC, Dr. Wood added.

Globally, Canadians are the second-largest per capita consumer of opioids, a family of pain medications that includes oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl. Deaths tied to the synthetic opioid fentanyl have spiked across the four largest provinces in recent years, with fatal overdoses increasing nearly seven times in BC from 13 in 2012 to 90 last year, according to a national network of drug researchers.

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