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Online database helps decrease opioid prescriptions in Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. -- At a time when medical professionals are focused on the coronavirus pandemic, many public health leaders in Wisconsin are still working hard to make big strides in the opioid epidemic.

For a long time, if doctors were meeting patients for the first time, when they went to write a prescription for pain medication, the only guidance they had to rely on was what the patient said about their history with opioids.

"A lot of it comes down to just communicating with the patient, discussing with them what their fears are, what their past experience with opioids are," said Dr. Jonathan Kohler.

But as a result of the opioid crisis, and the millions of people who have misused prescription opioids because of it, simply depending on how much a patient says they've used and need could be dangerous.

"In a twelve hour shift where I'd normally see maybe 30 patients, sometimes I would see five or six patients a day that were misrepresenting what they were taking and what they were prescribed and the kind of problems that they had. They call that doctor shopping," said Dr. Tim Westlake.

The Enhanced Prescription Drug Monitoring program, known as EPDMP, is an online database that launched in 2013. It puts patient's prescription and overdose information all in one place, in real time.

"What it allows the doctors and nurses and pharmacists and other healthcare providers to do is to see what exactly people have been prescribed and when," said Westlake.

Westlake said now with EPDMP, it's known in the community that doctor shopping isn't as easy to do anymore. He said it's shifting the culture by giving physicians, and even dentists, the ability to make more informed decisions when prescribing medications.

"It's not just a lowest bidder government software, it's a state of the art electronic tool that is really useful for physicians," said Westlake.

The database will even show if the patient has had an overdose event by uploading information required to be entered by law enforcement.

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services said the state is seeing evidence EPDMP is working.

The department said since their peak in 2015, opioid prescribing rates have dropped significantly. According to a press release, the dispensing of prescription drugs was down 25% , or 700,000 fewer prescriptions, in the last 3 months of 2019 compared to 4 years earlier.

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services said EPDMP is just one key tactic in the state's fight against the opioid crisis.

Some data collected on EPDMP is available to the public, including the number of prescriptions written, broken down by month, area and drug type. Click here to see some of those statistics.

You can also view EPDMP's quarterly report.