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Research on Illegal Prescription Drug Market Interventions

Date Published
March 26, 2017

NIJ supports research on ways to deter, investigate and disrupt illegal prescription drug markets. Projects examine the utility of law enforcement and prosecution resources including Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) and other taskforces, and anti-drug diversion legislation.

Read more about NIJ’s research on illegal prescription drug market interventions concerning law enforcement and prosecution interests :

Strategies and Resources for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas

In partnership with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), NIJ funded Abt Associates to document law enforcement activities related to the effectiveness and use of PDMPs, HIDTA-supported projects, and other federal, state and local initiatives in three regions where prescription drug diversion is highest — Washington State, New Mexico and New England. Based on interviews and document review, researchers observed that the HIDTA program provides a vehicle to direct federal support to targeted training, intelligence gathering and information sharing that helps law enforcement identify, investigate and prosecute prescription drug diversion. While there are commonalities across state PDMPs, they differ in content, reporting requirements, functionality, sharing across states and accessibility (particularly by law enforcement). HIDTA also provides funds to support regional efforts to reduce the demand for illegal drugs through training, education, prevention and drug take-back programs. 

Read an abstract and access the final report, Research on Illegal Prescription Drug Market Interventions.

Using the North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System to Identify Providers Manifesting Unusual Prescribing Practices

NIJ awarded a grant to the University of North Carolina to examine how the North Carolina Controlled Substances Reporting System could be used to identify unusual practices by prescribers and dispensers. Researchers found that some information ― specifically, co-prescribed benzodiazepines and opioids greater than 100 morphine milligram equivalents ― is more useful than distance traveled by patients and other previously suggested variables. By focusing on these variables, law enforcement may improve screening for problem prescribing, with fewer false positives. 

Read a paper based on this project, “The Use of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to Develop Algorithms to Identify Providers With Unusual Prescribing Practices for Controlled Substances” (pdf, 32 pages).

Optimizing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to Support Law Enforcement Activities

NIJ awarded a grant to the University of Kentucky to review innovations in nine states that permit law enforcement access to PDMPs. Based on focus groups and interviews with law enforcement, researchers identified several suggestions for improvement: instruct law enforcement on how to appropriately and efficiently access and interpret PDMP reports; give officers involved in drug diversion cases direct access to PDMPs; and make access to out-of-state PDMP reports more efficient by reducing paperwork and permission requests.

Read an abstract and access the summary overview for Optimizing Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to Support Law Enforcement Activities.

Policy Analysis of Florida House Bill 7095 for Diversion of Psychoactive Prescription Drugs

NIJ awarded a grant to the University of Central Florida to examine the effects of anti-drug diversion legislation. House bill 7095 bans drug dispensing by physicians and changes wholesale distribution and reporting, pharmacy license regulations, physician standards of care, Florida Department of Health pharmacy inspections, and prescribing violation penalties. Analyzing data on pain management clinic (PMC) trends from 2009 to 2014, researchers found a marked reduction in new registrations issued and the total number of operating PMCs. Combining these data with geocoded crime-incident data, researchers found that new PMCs tended to cluster near crime hot spots. During interviews, Drug Enforcement Strike Force personnel indicated the pill-mill problem has been greatly reduced, but many continue to operate clandestinely. They cited many challenges unique to pill mills, which revolved primarily around PMCs’ and physicians’ presumptive legality. They also identified the importance of prescription drug monitoring programs and multi-agency task forces in PMCs and holding physicians criminally liable.

Access the summary overview document Non-Medical use of Prescription Drugs: Policy Change, Law Enforcement Activity, and Diversion Tactics (pdf, 22 pages).

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Date Published: March 26, 2017