National monitoring system on hold

In August 2005, Kentucky officials were ecstatic. A new system was going to help fight the problem of pain pill seekers who travel to other states for drugs.

President George W. Bush had signed a bill authorizing $52 million over five years for a national program to coordinate prescription monitoring systems in all 50 states.

The program was to be modeled on the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, known by the acronym KASPER. The first of its kind in the nation, it reports all narcotic prescriptions for an individual, tells which doctors prescribed them and what pharmacy dispensed them.

The problem is, Congress didn't appropriate any money for the national system for four years. The first $2 million just came through on April 2.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said Kentucky is not waiting any longer to start sharing information with other states about which doctors are prescribing and which patients are getting the narcotics.

"We can't wait for Washington, D.C., to fund this," said Mongiardo, a physician from southeastern Kentucky, where the problem is dire. Thousands of drug dealers and addicts from states such as Kentucky that have monitoring programs are traveling to states that don't, like Florida.

People are overdosing on the pain pills that are prescribed by doctors in the 12 unregulated states, and an increasing number of patients are dying.

Barbara Baker, a health policy adviser in Mongiardo's office, said Kentucky and Ohio, both of which have monitoring programs, have begun working on a test project to share information electronically. Baker said Kentucky officials hope to link with other states that have monitoring programs.

The National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting program, or NASPER, would provide a uniform national system that would do the same thing.

It's a tool for health practitioners, pharmacists and law enforcement but is not intended to prevent people from obtaining needed drugs. The bill creating NASPER was introduced by U.S. Rep. Edward Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, at the urging of the Paducah-based American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

Laxmaiah Manchikanti, a Paducah physician and the CEO of that organization, said the first $2 million will give federal money to the 38 states that have prescription monitoring programs and want to communicate with other states.

Manchikanti said his organization is lobbying Congress to get the full funding, which he said is essential to stop the trafficking of prescription pain pills.

Mongiardo said the money from Congress can't come soon enough. So far, "it's not been a priority," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the absence of a uniform way to share information electronically is "killing people."