British Columbia

Less than half of B.C. doctors thoroughly check patients' prescription history, says researcher

PharmaNet service catalogues every British Columbian's prescription history but not all doctors are using it, according to a drug policy researcher.

PharmaNet service catalogues every British Columbian's prescription history but not all doctors use it

Governments in three Atlantic provinces spent more than $52 million on prescriptions for opioids between 2010 and 2015. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

Many B.C. doctors aren't doing their due diligence when looking at their patients' prescription history, and it's not helping the already surging number of drug overdoses in the province, according to a B.C. drug policy researcher.

UVic's Allan Cassels says less than half of B.C.'s doctors are taking advantage of a province-wide network that stores the drug histories of all patients in the province, a problem that is a contributing factor to fatal over-prescriptions.

The software is called PharmaNet, and it's available to nearly all of the province's health care providers — but many aren't using it.

"Only about 40 to 50 per cent of doctors have it in their offices," Cassels told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's BC Almanac. "PharmaNet, though its available in pharmacies, is not being used in physician offices."

A previous study found only 30 per cent of doctors actively use the program.

'Doctor Shopping'

Every prescription drug that is dispensed in the province is listed in the PharmaNet network by pharmacists. The information is meant to ensure doctors make safe clinical decisions — and keep patients from hunting down the same prescription from different doctors, also known as doctor shopping.

But outside of emergency rooms and designated mental health facilities, PharmaNet use is not mandatory.

"If you're being prescribed a new drug, the first thing a doctor should do is check your profile to see whether you've been doctor shopping."

Cassels points to the case of Kenneth Lee Pears, a B.C. man who overdosed on narcotics after receiving prescriptions from several different doctors, as a life that could have been saved had doctors been more diligent when making their prescriptions.

Trina Saby says her son Kenneth Lee Pears was a loving person who tried to help other addicts when he would get clean. (Trina Saby)

"We've had this in place for 20 years now — and that would have helped the problem," he said.

A years-long plea

But this isn't the first time drug policy researchers have pleaded for a more dedicated approach to PharmaNet.

Last year, a report made by the Urban Health Research Initiative and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that the number of fatal overdoses in B.C. could be drastically reduced by mandatory use of the service.

Since the report was released in Nov. 2015, there have been over 1,000 fatal overdoses in B.C.

The Ministry of Health told CBC News earlier this week that it is planning to make PharmaNet use mandatory for doctors, but no timeline was given.

​With files from CBC's BC Almanac

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Less than half of B.C. doctors thoroughly check patient's prescription history, says researcher