Georgia wages war against prescription drug abuse - CBS46 News

Georgia wages war against prescription drug abuse

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

Pharmacist Ira Katz has dispensed drugs at the Little 5 Points Pharmacy for more than 30 years.

"I just love helping people. I love the interaction with the patients," he said.

Safe to say, he's seen it all - including the mounting crisis of prescription drug abuse in Georgia.

"Pharmacies have been held up and broken into, burglaries and robberies are on the increase, and that is a serious problem," Katz said.

The CDC calls it a national epidemic, costing more lives by overdose than "street drugs," such as heroin and cocaine.

Last spring, the state launched the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to track controlled substances being prescribed and dispensed in Georgia.

You might find the numbers startling. In Georgia, physicians prescribed more than 6.3 million of the top 10 controlled substances in the last year. That amounted to more than 342 million pills.

At least once a week, Katz and other pharmacists are required by law to report any controlled substances being doled out to patients. And due to what he's seen, Katz has had to "fire" some longtime patients.

"It is eye-opening to be able to see that a patient that you thought was loyal to you and not going to abuse a particular medication was indeed doing just that," Katz said.

Katz said the PDMP is a "step in the right direction" but the law lacks teeth.

"Doesn't have all the bells and whistles I think a lot of us would like to have on it," he said.

For instance, doctors don't have to participate, but Katz said more physicians should voluntarily use the program to monitor what their patients are being prescribed and how many prescriptions they're having filled.

But even if they find unlawful activity, pharmacists and doctors in Georgia aren't allowed to tip off authorities or share information with one another. Georgia's law also prohibits sharing of data with other states.

"We need to be able to have a national database, which we don't have," Katz said.

And unlike other states, such as Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina, law enforcement officers in Georgia can't access the PDMP information without a search warrant, which means they can't use it to prosecute doctor shoppers.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the PDMP is that the federal grant money that keeps it operating will run out this time next year.

"Whatever it's going to take to keep it up and running I think is very, very important," Katz said.

Georgia has also passed legislation to crack down on illegal pill mills and the DEA recently launched a new text tip line in Georgia so you can report prescription drug abuse.

But many would agree with Katz that doctors can do the most good by not writing prescriptions unless absolutely necessary.

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