Prescription Drug Monitoring System Launched In Vermont

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Vermont Prescription Drug Monitoring System (known as VPMS) went into effect statewide last month to help track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances — those drugs most likely to lead to abuse, addiction or patient harm if they are not used properly.

Act 205, passed in 2006, authorized the Vermont Department of Health to establish the VPMS and collect a standard set of information on each prescription of a controlled substance. A controlled substance is a drug regulated by the government, including medications such as narcotics and opiates prescribed by a physician in order to treat chronic, moderate or severe pain.

The purpose of the database is to provide timely and useful information to both licensed prescribers and pharmacists. The VPMS will also help health care providers identify patients who may need treatment for drug abuse or addiction.

"The system will improve the ability of health care providers to treat patients by providing a more complete record of their treatment, especially for patients who may have more than one health care provider," said Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, MD.

A prescriber can only query information in the database on patients they are actively treating. Only licensed health care providers and pharmacists, registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and registered with the VPMS, will have access to information in the database. Individuals can also receive a copy of their own database information upon request. The information will be kept securely and privately in a central Health Department electronic database for six years.


Pharmacies are required to report their data on each controlled substance dispensed at least every seven days. The first report date was January 12, 2009. More than 328,000 records have already been uploaded into the system.

Ed Haak, DO, is the emergency department medical director at Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans and serves on the advisory committee that studies how to best implement the VPMS in Vermont. Dr. Haak is also chairperson of the Vermont Emergency Department Director's Committee.

"The law is an important adjunct to the whole effort to better organize the treatment of patients with chronic pain," Dr. Haak said. "If a patient comes into the emergency department, we can access the VPMS and use that information to identify a listing of previous prescriptions written, as well as the specific physician prescribing them, to be sure that the patient will not get an inappropriate kind – or number – of prescriptions for narcotics."

The VPMS advisory committee includes representatives from the Vermont Medical Society, Vermont Board of Medical Practice, Vermont Pharmacists Association, Vermont Dental Society, Vermont Department of Public Safety, and the Vermont State Nurses Association.

Vermont joins 38 states nationally that have enacted legislation requiring prescription drug monitoring systems. There are a total of 141 pharmacies located in Vermont, and 936 licensed pharmacists.

The VPMS is funded by a federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded to Vermont in 2005. The intent of the VPMS law is not to interfere with the legal medical use of controlled substances.

"We recognize that prescription drug abuse is a significant problem, and we are hopeful this program is successful in reducing overdose deaths and diversion of prescription drugs," said Major Tom L'Esperance, commander of the Criminal Division of the Vermont State Police.