Snyder backs plan to require drug database use

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is lending his political muscle to nudge along a plan that would require doctors to use a new online system aimed at tracking powerful opioid painkillers more effectively in a broad plan to fight prescription drug and heroin abuse.

Hearings on bills from Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, that would require doctors and other prescribers to check patients’ prescription histories once the new tracking system comes online in April have been delayed because of concerns from the Michigan State Medical Society about bogging down doctors with more work.

But Snyder — whose opioid task force recommended mandatory use in a 2015 report — is now backing Schuitmaker’s bills along with 13 others touted at a Thursday press conference as part of a bipartisan effort to curb opioid abuse in Michigan.

Heroin- and opioid-related overdose deaths in Michigan increased to 1,001 in 2014 from 99 in 1999, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve had strong support from physicians and pharmacists about wanting the system and being willing to use the system,” Snyder said Thursday. “I mean, if you have these pills in your house, shouldn’t you be treating it as if you had something, essentially heroin, in your house? And how dangerous is that?”

The governor reiterated assurances from state and medical industry officials that the new tracking system is much easier to use and spits out prescription history reports in seconds.

Doctors have said the current system — which will be replaced in early April — could take 10 minutes to show a report, making it cumbersome and potentially costly to hospitals trying to treat many patients. State records show most doctors in Michigan are not registered to use the current prescription tracking system.

Keeping better track of how many opiate-based painkillers are prescribed will give doctors a better sense of when they may be dispensing too many painkillers, supporters say. It’s also supposed to help doctors keep track of and ultimately limit prescriptions for patients who might be “doctor shopping” for more pills than they need.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley has called the new tracking system the “centerpiece” of the gubernatorial opioid abuse attack plan. But the package of bills touted Thursday includes prescription limits, new licensing requirements for pain clinics and a plan to require that schools educate students on prescription drug abuse and addiction, among other measures.

“There is not just one step to solve this problem … it’s about our society, our culture changing,” Snyder said. “So this is very comprehensive stuff. This won’t be the last step but another good step.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.