The recent disappearance of about 800 blank prescription pads from Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown raises a couple of troubling issues.
One of them — the issue of prescription drug abuse — is not a new one. For years, local law enforcement officials have been telling us that drugs such as oxycodone are one of the biggest problems they face.
The other is a little more novel.
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said last week that it’s suspected someone stole the eight pads, each containing 100 blank prescription forms, with the intent of obtaining drugs — “always opiates,” he noted.
Muehl said that it’s not unheard of for patients to “grab a couple of forms” when they are alone in an examination room with no doctor or nurse present.
We wonder if, in this age of computerized medical files and centralized record-keeping, there isn’t a more secure way for practitioners to manage prescriptions.
We know some providers print prescriptions via computer, rather than writing them by hand. This has the potential to be more time-consuming but has the advantage of keeping the forms in a centralized, secure location within a medical office, rather than leaving them in exam rooms.
A lot of prescribing is already done without creating an actual, physical paper prescription. The information is “called in” (often transmitted electronically) to a pharmacy so that all the patient has to do is show up. This system is closed to the type of theft that is alleged to have happened at Bassett; it also alleviates the risk of a patient losing that important piece of paper.
Certainly there are still instances when it’s advantageous for a provider to be able to dash off a quick script for a patient. But we would suggest that, if a medical office does still need to use the “old-fashioned” paper forms, this incident proves that a more secure storage method might be advisable.
The suspected theft of the prescription pads is one of many recent events highlighting the depth of the prescription drug abuse problem in the region.
This week, a Hobart man was arrested on charges that he had stolen drugs from his employer, Covidien. Previous incidents — including a high-profile arrest in January — have suggested that the pharmaceutical plant is the source for a great deal of the local opiate traffic.
It’s clear that we have a serious drug problem in the area. The missing prescription pads have the potential to deliver dangerous, addictive drugs into the hands of many more people. We hope the missing forms are recovered — and that steps are taken to prevent this type of theft in the future.