The Surescripts Blog

Technology is a Powerful Weapon in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse

By Paul Uhrig, Chief Administrative & Legal Officer, Surescripts

With 78 people dying each day from opioid overdoses, using the power of technology to help save lives is no longer optional. During a Surescripts panel discussion at HIMSS17, “Combating the Opioid Epidemic,” a number of industry experts explored how technology—namely electronic prescribing for controlled substances (EPCS) and electronic access to Medication History data—can deliver the actionable intelligence needed to reduce opiate fraud and abuse.

Dr. Sean Kelly, ER Physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, and Chief Medical Officer for Imprivata, Inc., discussed the role that New York State’s I-STOP legislation has had in advancing EPCS both in the state and on a larger scale. I-STOP, which went into effect on March 27, 2016, mandates that all prescriptions in New York be electronically prescribed, including controlled substances. That forced many vendors and provider systems to become EPCS-enabled, explained Dr. Kelly.

At a national level, over 90 percent of pharmacies are ready to use EPCS technology, though only 14.5 percent of providers are enabled to prescribe controlled substances electronically. I had the opportunity to ask the panel to address some of these barriers.

Karen Hollingsworth, Senior Director, Clinical and Operational Applications, Health Information Technology and Services at Michigan Medicine, shared her organization’s EPCS adoption challenges, including issues with enforcing mandates. Michigan requires that prescribers check the state’s prescription monitoring program (PMP) database before sending controlled substance prescriptions, explained Hollingsworth. However, there is no way to force prescribers to check the database and enforce the mandate therein, which she said creates “a Swiss cheese hole.”

Dr. Kelly also shared how usability and workflow considerations fit into the mix. “Whether or not the technology is good often speaks to how useable it is.” And even when it is good, there are a lot of things to consider before moving from paper to an electronic workflow, said Dr. Kelly. Despite the technical and procedural challenges of EPCS implementation, “I think we’re at an inflection point,” he said, “Knowing what medications a patient takes is priceless.”

Dr. Andrew Coop, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy, reminded the audience that people will always be abusing opioids. “Nothing is going to change any time soon in terms of the medications,” he said. “In the future, we want an opioid that doesn’t get people high.” But since controlled substances are here to stay, Dr. Coop believes technology gives prescribers the ability to make a difference.

Dr. Kelly also noted that in New England—where the states are small and hospital networks cross state borders—that “neighboring states are really paying attention” to nearby EPCS mandates. However, he believes that regulations are not the only contributing factor in EPCS adoption. “Regulations tend to be a catalyst for change, but not necessarily the main driver,” he said. From a patient-safety standpoint, Dr. Kelly believes that organizations are moving toward EPCS because it’s the right thing to do. “The main driver is that people are dying,” he said.

For more information on how to become EPCS-enabled, visit for step-by-step instructions, guidance and FAQs. To learn more about the panel discussion, check out the panel highlight video below or view the entire discussion. Also, don’t miss our HIMSS17 highlights video, which includes top takeaways from this year’s event.

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