What Every Patient Should Know About NarxCare

By Rochelle Odell, Columnist

Walmart and Sam’s Club recently announced that by the end of August their pharmacists will start using NarxCare, a prescription tracking tool that analyzes real-time data about opioids and other controlled substances from Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP’s).

Recent studies question the value of PDMP’s, but 49 states have implemented them so that physicians, pharmacists and insurers can see a patient's medication history. Granted, there is a need for monitoring the select few who doctor shop and/or abuse their medications, albeit that number is only in the 2 percent range.

What is NarxCare? Appriss Health developed NarxCare as a “robust analytics tool” to help “care teams” (doctors, pharmacists, etc.) identify patients with substance use disorders. Each patient is evaluated and given a “risk score” based on their prescription drug history. According to Appriss, a patient is much more willing to discuss their substance abuse issues once they are red flagged as a possible abuser.

“NarxCare automatically analyzes PDMP data and a patient’s health history and provides patient risk scores and an interactive visualization of usage patterns to help identify potential risk factors,” the company says on its website.

“NarxCare aids care teams in clinical decision making, provides support to help prevent or manage substance use disorder, and empowers states with the comprehensive platform they need to take to the next step in the battle against prescription drug addiction."

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Sounds great doesn't it? Except prescription drugs are not the problem and never really have been. Illicit drug use has, is, and will continue to be the main cause of the addiction and overdose crisis. 

Even the name NarxCare has a negative connotation. “Narx” stands for narcotics. And in today's environment, narcotics is a very negative word. NarxCare makes me feel like a narcotics police officer is just around the corner.

Each patient evaluated by NarxCare gets a “Narx Report” that includes their NarxScores, Overdose Risk Score, Rx Graph, PDMP Data and my favorite, the Red Flags. The scores are based on the past two years of a patient’s prescription history, as well as their medical claims, electronic health records and even their criminal history.

Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and several other states are using NarxCare to supplement their own PDMPs. And Walmart isn’t the only big retail company to adopt it. Kroger, Ralphs, Kmart, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens are already using NarxCare. There’s a good chance your prescriptions are already being tracked by NarxCare and you don’t even know it.

But NarxCare doesn’t just analyze opioid prescriptions. It also tracks other controlled substances, such as antidepressants, sedatives and stimulants. If a patient is on any combination of those drugs, their risk scores and their chances of being red flagged will be higher – even if they’ve been safely taking the medications for years.

There are several other ways a patient can be red flagged, such as having multiple doctors or pharmacies. But what if you moved and changed physicians? What if you had the same physician for many years and he/she retired or moved away? What if your pharmacy refused to fill your prescription and you had to go pharmacy hunting every month? What if you had dental surgery and your dentist placed you on a short-term pain medication?

Unfortunately, the NarxCare scores do not reflect any of that. How can raw data on prescription medications be an indicator of abuse? I believe there is some merit in tracking and weeding out the rare abuser, but NarxCare doesn't factor in all the “what if’s” that can happen to law-abiding and responsible patients. 

As pain patients, we need to be acutely aware of the negative impact this analytics tool can have. Many of us have already been required to sign pain contracts, take drugs tests, and undergo pill counts. In 2019, Medicare will adopt policies making it even harder for patients to get high doses of opioid medication. Some insurers are already doing it. We're already being policed enough as it is.

I intend to ask my physician, pharmacist and case manager if they utilize NarxCare. So should you. If they say yes, ask them why. Ask your doctor if they believe you are at risk for substance use disorder. Why is their judgement and treatment of you being second guessed by anyone?

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Rochelle Odell lives in California. She’s lived for nearly 25 years with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS/RSD).

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.