Progress Towards a National Prescription Safety-Alert System: the Introduction of the ALERT Act

By Joe Ganley, VP of Federal Affairs, McKesson Corporation

We recently had an important day in our country’s fight against the opioid epidemic. Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) introduced the Analyzing and Leveraging Existing Rx Transactions (ALERT) Act (PDF, 49 KB).

I know—it’s a mouthful. Here’s why it’s a big deal: This bill would use existing technology to help prevent people who would abuse or misuse prescription opioids from doing so.

It calls for a national prescription safety-alert system that gives pharmacists a “red flag” if there is something in the patient’s prescription history that raises a question or concern. The system then prompts the pharmacist to take a second look before filling a potentially problematic prescription.

Imagine this scenario.

Suppose a patient named Kathy goes to the pharmacy to fill a prescription for oxycodone, a strong opioid painkiller. Right now, there’s no quick way for her pharmacist to know if Kathy has received multiple prescriptions from different doctors at multiple pharmacies, and therefore could be at risk for abuse or misuse.

But if our country had a national prescription safety alert system, the pharmacist would know that Kathy had received and filled multiple prescriptions.

The pivotal moment: Now, the pharmacist has information to act. Have a conversation with Kathy about her opioid use. Contact Kathy’s doctors to learn more about her multiple prescriptions. Check her prescription history on the state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). And, possibly exercise her clinical judgment and not fill Kathy’s latest opioid prescription.

Tools like this can have an impact on the opioid epidemic by giving medical professionals helpful information in real-time to assist them in making informed dispensing decisions.

The infrastructure for this system already exists. Alerts could be integrated right into the existing software that pharmacists already use. It would require no extra logins or interruptions to the pharmacist’s work. And these clinical alerts would be provided alongside existing claims transactions already governed by strict privacy rules.

Congress has passed important legislation in this area in the past few years (the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in 2016 and the SUPPORT for Patients Act in 2018) but there is more work to be done.

If we embrace technology like a safety-alert system, we can help identify and avoid instances of opioid misuse. Passing the ALERT Act is the right next step in this war against opioid abuse. To learn more about how this system could work, visit the visit the Health Innovation Alliance website.

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