Article originally appears on 12.03.15

AS PART of his campaign against opioid abuse, Governor Charlie Baker has urged doctors, dentists, and anyone else who can prescribe drugs to use the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. The database, run by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, collects and updates prescription information fed into it by Massachusetts hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies, as well as by out-of-state mail order pharmacies that deliver to Massachusetts addresses. The monitoring program can help physicians determine whether a patient has a history of obtaining drugs from multiple sources — a practice known as “doctor shopping.” In an emergency room setting, for instance, a busy doctor might have a difficult time determining whether a patient’s pain is real or concocted — addicts quickly learn to become skilled at deception.

The Department of Public Health calls the monitoring system “groundbreaking.” But there’s an obvious flaw that requires a quick fix: Doctors who have finished medical school and are in residency training aren’t allowed to log on to the database, even though they are authorized to prescribe drugs. As the Globe’s Felice J. Freyer reported Monday, medical residents have to seek out a fully licensed doctor to review prescription records online. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a resident couldn’t easily locate a doctor with the time or inclination to scour the records of someone else’s patient. It also doesn’t make sense to involve two doctors to carry out this simple task.

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