Using technology to battle the opiate epidemic


Opiate abuse is a public health crisis taking and destroying lives in every community in the country.  Addressing the problem will take a concerted, sustained effort involving a range of constituents – from health care providers and policymakers to business leaders.  Technology can be an important tool in the effort by curtailing the diversion of prescription drugs, which kills 16,000 Americans each year, twice as many as die from cocaine and heroin combined.

A recent forum sponsored by Imprivata and hosted by the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium focused on two technology-based strategies -- Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMPs) and the Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS). The panelists, who spoke to a full room of thought leaders from government, academia and industry, included:

  • Karen M Ryle, MS, RPh, Associate Chief of Pharmacy, Ambulatory Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Chair, NABP.
  • Paul L. Uhrig, EVP, Chief Administrative & Legal Officer, Surescripts, a national health information network company that certifies and connects pharmacy and prescriber applications for EPCS. 
  • Michael A. Lee MD, MBA, Director, Clinical Informatics, Atrius Health
  • David Ting, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Imprivata


The conversation was kicked off by a provocative analogy from moderator Sean Kelly, MD, an emergency room physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Chief Medical Officer at Imprivata.  Dr. Kelly noted that opiate abuse now kills more Americans every year than automobile accidents, which are dropping because of safety technology embedded into new car models.

“Considering that most of the safety features in cars are invisible to drivers, what relevance does this have for technology-based prescribing in the fight against drug addiction?”  Kelly asked.

The question encouraged panelists to consider the methods and pathways states are using to implement PMPs and EPCS.  The panelists agreed that it is no longer a matter of if technology-based prescribing should be used to prevent opiate abuse but how it can be deployed in a way that doesn’t interrupt patient care or the work flow of clinicians.

Dr. Lee, who has embraced e-prescribing, believes EPCS and PMPs give providers access to the data they need to make informed patient-care decisions and monitor prescribing patterns while maintaining a secure, auditable chain of trust between prescribers and pharmacies.  For Lee and other providers, however, overcoming challenges like potential workflow interruptions will be critical to the widespread adoption of these strategies. 

“It’s not that physicians are reluctant to use these technologies,” Lee explained.  “ It’s that the technologies have to work with and for providers. PMPs and EPCS can be effective in fighting abuse – as long as they are easy to use and are within our standard workflow.”

That, panelists and audience members agreed, is the key to unlocking the promise of EPCS. 


To learn more about EPCS, check out our EPCS Insights forum and our Imprivata Confirm ID product page.