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WASHINGTON, June 21 (Reuters) - The Obama administration is launching a pilot program to make it easier for doctors, pharmacists and emergency departments to access patients' prescription drug records, aiming to stem a rising tide of deadly abuse.
Overdoses from prescription drugs are now the leading cause of accidental deaths in the country, eclipsing car crashes and the combined impact of cocaine and heroin abuse.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health IT division will introduce the pilot program in Indiana and Ohio.
Forty-nine U.S. states authorize such prescription drug monitoring programs, which collect information from pharmacies and practitioners. But doctors in many states hardly use the data because of the difficulty in navigating through the information, HHS said.
"We're trying to make it as convenient as possible," said Marty Allain, a senior director at the Indiana Board of Pharmacy. Allain, who worked with HHS to design the pilot program, said it would merge the government data with the electronic health record systems already used in doctors' practices and pharmacies.
Providers have also complained that existing data is often available only after a lag of up to 30 days, saying it makes the information less effective when deciding whether to write a prescription. The new system improves on that technology to provide real-time data.
"We got serious pushback on that," said Sherry Green, chief executive officer of the federally funded National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws. "The real-time is a very big issue."
The program in Indiana will encourage emergency department staff to access patients' prescription history directly through an electronic management system already used in hospitals across the state. HHS said that in some states, emergency providers account for 25 percent of all controlled substance prescriptions.
In Ohio, the program will test a new drug risk indicator and its impact on decision-making in clinics, hospitals and doctor's offices.
"Part of the problem we have with the prescription drug abuse problem is we are always playing catch-up," said Green. "We are moving towards early identification of a problem and toward the preventive side of a problem -- to keep things from getting worse or to prevent problems for some patients in the first place." (Reporting by Salimah Ebrahim; Editing by Michele Gershberg)