Lawmakers weigh high-tech fight against prescription fraud

Creating a direct communication between prescribers and pharmacies could reduce number of cases.
Lawmakers and law enforcement authorities see prescription fraud as an emerging issue that’s spreading across the state. Credit iStock

LANSING — In an attempt to limit prescription fraud, proposals working their way through the Legislature would mandate that prescriptions be electronically sent directly from physicians to pharmacies.

The bills would streamline the prescribing process for pharmacies and limit cases of prescription fraud, according to Meegan Holland, vice president of marketing and communications for the Michigan Retailers Association.

“The legislation will help prevent fraud and errors common with handwritten prescription pads,” Holland said. “The change will improve pharmacies’ workflow and make it harder for addicts to get access to opioids.”

Electronic prescriptions would include information about the prescriber, the full name of the patient, an electronic signature and the time it was prescribed.

“The biggest advantage of the bills is that they will eliminate forged prescriptions,” said Larry Wagenknecht, chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association. “The ability of forgers to create a copy is very good, but now we can ensure that (prescriptions) will only come directly from a physician’s office, which will help cut down on problems associated with forgeries.”

Wagenknecht said there are few studies pertaining to forged prescriptions, but the anecdotal evidence is strong.

“I can’t give a percentage because it’s relatively low relating to the total number of prescriptions filled, but it happens very frequently,’’ he said.

Most of the prescriptions that are forged are for controlled substances, he said, or medications that have an addiction potential or a street value.

The Michigan Automated Prescription System reported that doctors wrote 11.4 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2015, equal to about 115 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, prescription fraud is a priority for law enforcement.

“We’ve been part of these discussions for quite some time, not only on the state but on the national level,” Koops said.

“We see prescription fraud as one of the top emerging issues. I wish I could say that it was only affecting certain areas, but it seems to be an idea that’s spreading across the state,” he said.

Koops said that creating a direct communication between prescribers and pharmacies could reduce cases of fraud.

According to Holland, doctors who don’t want to update their systems oppose the legislation.

It is common for medical practices to pay $500 or more a month in e-prescribing costs, according to a bill analysis by the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

The analysis also said some rural practices suffer from inconsistent internet connectivity.

According to Holland, the legislation would allow waivers for prescribers based on economic hardship or unexpected technological difficulties “to ensure there are no barriers to patients receiving their medications.”

In addition to waivers, the new requirement wouldn’t apply if prescribers fit criteria determined by the state, including veterinarians and facilities like hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

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