Last week, I wrote that the latest evidence on prescription drug monitoring programs suggests that they don’t work so well. But a recent Health Affairs study from a team at Vanderbilt—a study that I’d initially overlooked—makes me wonder if I spoke too soon. By comparing national mortality data to state-by-state variations in prescription drug monitoring programs, the study finds that the adoption of high-quality programs is associated with a modest reduction in mortality from opioid-related deaths.
Methodologically, the study looks solid. It’s not immediately obvious why it found different results from the NEJM study I discussed in the last post. One possibility is that the researchers teased apart differences in how the programs were implemented across the states. It may be that how states implement these programs matters more than whether they adopt them at all.
Whatever the case may be, the authors estimate that the adoption of high-quality prescription drug monitoring programs in every state would save about 600 lives in 2016, or about 2% of overall deaths from opioid overdose. That’s not going to end the opioid epidemic anytime soon, but it’s much better than nothing.
Update your priors accordingly; I’ve updated mine.