News Release

PO 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
Christine Grant
Commissioner
For Release:
February 2, 2000
For Further Information Contact:
Marilyn Riley
609-984-7160
Ed Rogan (DHS)
(609) 292-3703
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New Monitoring System Protects Against Prescription Drug Mistakes

TRENTON - More than 400,000 people who receive prescription drug coverage under the Medicaid, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD) and other state programs will have more protection from medical errors, dangerous drug interactions and other inappropriate drug use under a new monitoring system recently implemented by the state.

The new system, implemented in December, alerts pharmacists to problems such as dangerous drug interactions, drug dosages that are either too high or too low; duplicate drugs, or people who have been taking certain drugs for inappropriate lengths of time.

"We have an obligation to protect the health of those who rely on us for prescription drugs," said Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Christine Grant, whose department administers the PAAD prescription drug program for nearly 190,000 seniors and disabled people. "Seniors are especially at risk. They often have a number of health problems, and may be taking several medications prescribed by more than one doctor."

"We know from the recent national Institutes of Medicine Report that medical errors, including mistakes relating to prescription drugs, are among the leading causes of death in the country," said Department of Human Services Commissioner Michele K. Guhl, whose department administers the Medicaid program for low income, blind and disabled people, and other programs whose clients would be affected. "This new system is an important step to guard against those errors in publicly funded programs."

The new system, known as the state Medical Exception Process (MEP), is operated by First Health Services of Glen Allen, VA, a pharmaceutical benefits management firm.

Under MEP, when pharmacists fill prescriptions for beneficiaries of Medicaid, PAAD and other programs, and enter the transaction into the state data base, they are notified automatically if a problem exists.

If the prescribed medicine would cause illness or endanger the patient, the pharmacists do not fill the prescription until the patient's physician is consulted. In other situations, a temporary supply of the drug can be issued until the case can be reviewed with the prescribing physician.

Under MEP, prescriptions are checked against standards set by the state's Drug Utilization Board, a group of physicians, pharmacists, and other health professionals. Prescriptions are checked for size of dosage, patient's length of time on the drug, and possible duplication or interaction with other prescribed drugs. First Health also monitors those recipients of Medicaid and other DHS programs who receive an inordinately high number of prescriptions in any given month to ensure appropriate utilization.

Currently, some individual pharmacists and retail pharmacy chains have computerized safeguard systems in place, mainly for drug interactions.

Commissioner Guhl said the state's new MEP system would provide another important level of scrutiny.

"The MEP system is far more comprehensive than what is in place now and monitors more aspects of drug use," she said. "Although peoples' safety is the primary concern there is also the issue of accountability. The state of New Jersey spends close to $1 billion a year on prescription drugs and we have the responsibility to ensure that money is spent properly," she said.

In addition to those people in the Medicaid and PAAD programs, the new system will also affect 26,000 people covered under General Assistance, the municipal welfare program.

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