Attorney General Jerry Brown unveiled a secure Web site Tuesday that tracks prescription drug use, saying doctors will be able to log on to see what other prescriptions their patients may be taking. Law enforcement will also track the site's data to spot trends in drug abuse.
The Web site is an upgrade to the state's previous system, which required doctors and pharmacists to request information by fax, mail or phone, and wait days for a response.
A $1.1 million federal grant and additional state resources were used to get the new site up and running.
"We have so much (drugs) moving on the streets and we have so much moving in doctors' suites, and we have to attack both," Brown said.
Web site users will have instant access to prescriptions filled for schedule II, III and IV drugs - including powerful painkillers like morphine, hydro-codone and codeine.
Brown said few doctors have signed up for the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System's new Web site, "but we expect thousands to sign up."
He said 38 states have some sort of prescription drug monitoring system in place. Of those, 25 have internet-based systems. California is the 26th and largest state to operate a Web-based database.
The attorney general's office receives more than 60,000 requests annually for such information.
Prescription drug abuse is costly for the state and health insurers. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates 20 percent to 30 percent of California's drug abusers primarily use prescription drugs.
In 2008, the state attorney general's office targeted the California's top 50 doctor-shoppers, who visited multiple doctors to collect prescriptions for large quantities of drugs. As a result, dozens of arrests were made, including a 53-year-old man who visited 183 doctors and 47 pharmacies to get a variety of painkillers.
California's strapped budget could benefit if the database is successful in stopping illegal access to prescription drugs, according to Dr. David Kloth, an anesthesiologist and board member of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Many painkiller prescriptions are funded by taxpayer dollars through public health insurance programs like Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.
"If you took the dollars that were wasted on diverted and abused medicines in this country, it would come to billions of dollars a year," Kloth said.