Electronic Prescribing Of Controlled Substances Rates Spiking

Posted on September 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Back in the day, say a decade ago or so, when e-prescribing itself was a new and big deal, the feds – especially the DEA – didn’t think much of the e-prescribing of controlled drugs like opiates. But a few years later the agency eventually came around. In June of 2010, it released a rule which allowed providers to issue such prescriptions nd pharmacies to receive, dispense and archive these scripts electronically nationwide.

Since then, electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS) has taken off, according to a story in Search HealthIT. In fact, EPCS has been growing rapidly, particularly during 2015, according to national pharmacy IT network Surescripts.

Specifically, the number of ECPS transactions shot up 600% last year, from 1.67 million to 12.8 million scripts issued, according to Surescripts’ 2015 National Progress Report. Part of the reason for this surge is that providers are getting on board at a brisk pace. The number of providers enabled to use EPCS grew 359% last year.

Among the interesting stats to be culled from the Surescripts report is that 32% of drugs prescribed were opioids. This statistic should draw a lot of interest from public officials and enforcement agencies trying to stem the tide of opioid overdoses which killed more than 28,000 Americans in 2014. That’s four times as many who died of this cause in 2010, according to Surescripts’ sources.

A Drop in the Bucket

It’s worth noting that the number of EPCS transactions still pales in contrast to the number of transactions hosted on the Surescripts network that year. The network handled 9.7 billion transactions in 2015, up 40% from the previous year, the company reported. That means the EPCS is still a drop in the bucket overall.

Also, levels of EPCS-enabled pharmacies and physicians vary across the U.S. For example, 91% of pharmacies are EPCS-enabled in New York, the top state for such pharmacies. (A New York State rule requiring every practitioner in the state to e-prescribe all medications went into effect in March.) Other top-ranked states for pharmacy penetration included Massachusetts, California and Texas. On the other hand, only 73% of pharmacies were EPCS-enabled in Georgia and Florida.

Still, with adoption levels seemingly evening out between states – and the gap small enough to close over the next few years – it seems like EPCS is becoming an established practice. Surescripts contends that this is for the best, and argues that EPCS reduces fraud and improper prescribing by making it easier to track such medications. And with states like New York mandating e-prescribing for all providers, the growth in EPCS is likely to stay healthy.

However, for every action there’s a reaction, and the other shoe may not have dropped where EPCS risks are concerned. It may take a few years to find out whether the confidence some have in this approach was merited.