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The Use of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to Develop Algorithms to Identify Providers With Unusual Prescribing Practices for Controlled Substances


The misuse, abuse and diversion of controlled substances have reached epidemic proportion in the United States. Contributing to this problem are providers who over-prescribe these substances. Using one state’s prescription drug monitoring program, we describe a series of metrics we developed to identify providers manifesting unusual and uncustomary prescribing practices. We then present the results of a preliminary effort to assess the concurrent validity of these algorithms, using death records from the state’s vital records database pertaining to providers who wrote prescriptions to patients who then died of a medication or drug overdose within 30 days. Metrics manifesting the strongest concurrent validity with providers identified from these records related to those who co-prescribed benzodiazepines (e.g., valium) and high levels of opioid analgesics (e.g., oxycodone), as well as those who wrote temporally overlapping prescriptions. We conclude with a discussion of a variety of uses to which these metrics may be put, as well as problems and opportunities related to their use.

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This paper was supported by a Grant #2012-R2-CX-0002 from the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice. We are profoundly grateful for the consistent support we have received from staff of the State’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, Bureau of Investigation, and Medical Board.

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Correspondence to Christopher Ringwalt.

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Ringwalt, C., Schiro, S., Shanahan, M. et al. The Use of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to Develop Algorithms to Identify Providers With Unusual Prescribing Practices for Controlled Substances. J Primary Prevent 36, 287–299 (2015).

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  • Aberrant prescribing
  • Unusual prescribing
  • Controlled substances
  • Opioids