There is no conclusive evidence that abuse of narcotic prescription drugs is out of control in Maryland. There is, however, evidence that many Americans are undermedicated for pain. A federal study recently urged doctors to pay more attention to adequate pain relief for patients after surgery. The problem is also acute among cancer patients. Why, then, is the state health department planning to spend $500,000 to create a new bureaucracy to monitor prescriptions of drugs that have sound medical uses but a high potential for abuse?
Officials at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration insist prescription drug abuse is troubling, but their evidence is largely anecdotal. The closest thing to real data -- emergency room admissions for drug overdoses -- suggests the problem may actually be declining in Maryland. Moreover, no one could argue that prescription drug abuse even remotely rivals the difficulty Maryland faces from illicit street drugs like cocaine or heroin. Given the lack of firm data on prescription drug abuse and the proposal's lack of attention to the problem of pharmacy theft (in all likelihood a much greater source of abuse), the department's plan for a statewide prescription monitoring system may be a classic example of bureaucrats rushing to fix something -- anything -- before they can prove how or where it's broken.