KHI News Service

Kansas’ drug monitoring program credited with helping keep overdoses low

Kansas OD rate 8th lowest in U.S. at about 1 in 10,000, new report finds

By Phil Cauthon | October 08, 2013


Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic.

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Kansas has among the lowest rates of drug overdose in the country, likely due in part to its prescription drug monitoring program, according to a new report.

Less than 1 per 10,000 Kansans died of overdoses in 2010 — the majority of which nationwide are from prescription drugs — ranking eighth lowest among states, according to a report released this week by the non-profit Trust for America’s Health. While the rate has nearly tripled since 1999, it has gone up even more in most other states.

The report also indicated which of 10 key policies states had implemented to curb prescription drug addiction and deaths. Kansas has only implemented four of them, but it is leading the nation in the No. 1 indicator: An active Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (or PDMP).

Albert Lang, spokesman for report's authors, said Kansas' PDMP has an edge over most state monitoring programs in that it shares data across state lines.

"Also, we don’t have it in the report but Kansas is one of only five states that had daily reporting to the PDMP," Lang said, noting that most update about once a week.

Prescription drug monitoring programs allow doctors and pharmacists to log on to a secure website to review the prescription histories of patients. The systems can prompt the sending of notices to providers and pharmacists when potential prescription abuse is detected.

In Kansas, all licensed pharmacies that fill patient prescriptions are required by law to use the state's monitoring program, called K-TRACS, and many hospitals voluntarily use it as well. The program also plans to connect to LACIE, one of the two networks that comprise the statewide health information exchange.

Marty Singleton, director of the Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances system (K-TRACS), which doctors and pharmacists use to check on possible prescription drug abuse and doctor shopping for multiple prescriptions.

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System upgrade

Tomorrow, Kansas' monitoring program is set to implement a software upgrade that should make it even more effective, said new executive director of K-TRACS, Marty Singleton.

Singleton said that drug abusers, dealers, and others who "doc shop" for multiple prescriptions had figured out ways to evade detection by the system, which launched in 2010.

"They would use multiple addresses, slightly different birth dates, slightly different spellings of their name so that they could go undetected and get multiple prescriptions filled above and beyond the prescribed dosage," Singleton said.

"Earlier versions of the software had trouble putting together these records and saying 'These are all the same person, so this is a red flag — don't fill this prescription, or if you do fill it, you probably want to keep an eye on it,'" he said. "This (upgrade) will give us a lot better data."

The upgrade is part of the software pilot program launched this year by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Kansas was the first — and is still the only — state to utilize the free software, saving the monitoring program about $120,000 annually in licensing and connectivity fees.

New K-TRACS director

Singleton started last week following the Aug. 6 resignation of Christina Morris — the first K-TRACS director, who left for a strategy post at Cerner Corp.

Previously he was one of four regional directors of performance improvement at the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF). Singleton was recruited from DCF's Manhattan office by Debra Billingsley, executive secretary of the Kansas Board of Pharmacy.

Billingsley said K-TRACS needed someone with Singleton's technical background. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Kansas State University.

"He has a strong IT background, and that's an area of concern with K-TRACS since we just switched (software) vendors, and being the first state to use the system," Billingsley said. She said Morris' skill set as a lawyer had been critical for getting the program off the ground — for example, writing the K-TRACS statute and regulations, as well as numerous grant applications.

"That part is all done now, and we're really more into the meat of the program and making sure it's operational," Billingsley said.

Regarding K-TRACS' chronic funding woes, Billingsley said the state pharmacy board seems prepared to fill the gap as federal funding dries up.

Audio clip

KPR story: Drug overdose deaths relatively low in Kansas

"The board would love it if we could continue to get federal money — I just don't know that that's going to be available. But I don't think that we're ready to call it quits on the program if we don't get federal money," said Billingsley, noting that federal funds tend to be earmarked for systems upgrades, not daily operations. "At this point, the Board of Pharmacy is going to end up funding most of K-TRACS."

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