ST. LOUIS — A drug-monitoring program that began a year ago has since found overprescribing of opioid painkillers in the St. Louis area.

St. Louis County's program launched last year to track prescriptions of opioid painkillers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and other legal drugs with a potential for abuse. Nearly 60 other Missouri cities and counties have since joined the program.

More than 6,600 doctors and pharmacists are registered to access the database of patients' prescription drug histories, but county officials said that's fewer than half the physicians and pharmacies statewide, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The program has flagged nearly 14,000 instances in which someone filled three different prescriptions at three different pharmacies in a span of six months. Officials said the alerts indicate possible doctor-shopping and drug abuse.

"Even if you set aside the fact there are quite a few people who have genuine pain management needs, clearly there is overprescribing going on," said Faisal Khan, director of the county's health department.

Pharmacists and doctors can look up a patient's history to check for the drugs prescribed, by which provider and in what amounts over a certain time period. Doctors can also check their own records to find any fraudulent prescribing under their names.

The most frequently prescribed opioids are hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol. The drugs are prescribed in the county for an average of 16 days, according to county officials.

Between 700 and 800 people died in the St. Louis area last year from opioid overdoses, officials said. Missouri was the last state to begin a prescription drug monitoring program aimed at the opioid epidemic.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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