News / Calgary

Real-time information required to stop prescription fraud: health officials

Alberta is one of the only places in Canada that tracks opioid use through a province-wide network

Opioid-related overdoses killed 343 Albertans last year, and nearly 40 per cent of those individuals visited three or more pharmacies for opioid prescriptions in the year before their death.

CP FILE

Opioid-related overdoses killed 343 Albertans last year, and nearly 40 per cent of those individuals visited three or more pharmacies for opioid prescriptions in the year before their death.

It’s known on the street as ‘doctor shopping.’

A recent report from the province revealed almost 40 per cent of individuals who fatally overdosed last year were prescribed an opioid from three or more different health care providers within their last year of life.

“These may be perfectly legitimate interactions, because it’s tracked over an entire year,” said Dr. Karen Grimsrud, chief medical officer for Alberta Health.

“However, there may be too many people prescribing opioids to one individual and not being aware of that,” she said.

Alberta’s Pharmaceutical Information Network (PIN) allows pharmacies, physicians and their offices, primary care and other health facilities to access an electronic record of a patient’s current and previous prescriptions.

“How rapidly that information becomes available is not optimal, that’s one piece we’re looking at – getting real-time data on prescriptions,” Dr. Grimsrud said.

New dispense records are batch-uploaded to the PIN from the pharmacy’s patient record every evening, and if there’s a system issue, it could take even longer.

“We have to get it to real-time,” said Greg Eberhart, registrar at the Alberta College of Pharmacists (ACP).

He said the ACP already works with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) to identify high-risk patients.

“Pharmacists are trained and expected to not only evaluate patients, but evaluate the validity and authenticity of the prescription. If they have reason to believe a prescription has been forged, they will contact the prescriber,” Eberhart said.

“That’s not a sole responsibility, that’s something they do that’s complementary of what physicians and other health professionals are doing, but it’s all in the interest of achieving appropriate drug use.”

The PIN also flags possible dosage issues and duplicates – if prescription fraud is suspected, the CPSA is also able to intervene.

“When we get that information, we send letters to the doctors involved…and prompt them to have a conversation with their patient, if it’s appropriate,” said Kelly Eby, director of communications for the CPSA.

“In some circumstances, someone might have been away or it was completely legitimate for them to see another physician for the same drug.”

She noted Alberta is one of the only provinces in the country to track opioid use at all.