PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island is weighing whether to create a prescription drug registry so doctors and pharmacists can identify patients who are struggling with substance abuse.
The proposed online registry would track prescriptions for controlled substances so health professionals could see how often a patient has received them. New York began a similar prescription monitoring program earlier this year.
More than 180 Rhode Islanders died from unintentional drug overdoses last year — more than four times the number of homicide victims in the state. That number includes people who died after using prescribed and illicit drugs. Health officials say many people struggling with prescription drug addiction often switch between illegal drugs like heroin and legal ones like oxycodone.
A state task force reviewing the idea met for the first time Monday at the Statehouse. The commission includes lawmakers, state health officials, physicians and a community mental health expert and is led by state Rep. William O’Brien, D-North Providence. O’Brien said he began looking at the idea after talking to a constituent whose daughter is addicted to oxycodone.
“She’s getting it from clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, doctors,” O’Brien said. “She comes up with more and more creative ways to get this drug. It’s torture for her family.”
There are significant challenges to creating a registry, however. Some members of the task force said a registry must respect patient privacy and expressed concerns that it would only address a small part of the problem of drug abuse.
Michael Fine, the state’s director of health and a member of the commission, said the state must do more to address drug addiction in all forms. He said state data shows that addicts will move from using a legal, prescribed substance to street drugs based on factors including ease of access and cost.
“You want to look at the total number of overdose deaths,” Fine said. “If you squeeze the balloon in one place, it just goes somewhere else.”
The task force is expected to report its findings back to the General Assembly in the spring.