It's no secret Colorado has a drug problem.

And we're not talking about the much-publicized move to legal recreational marijuana sales that began this week.

No, we're referring to the far less noticed issue of prescription drug abuse.

In this March 22, 2013 photo, a Columbus, Ind., police detective empties a vial of confiscated prescription drugs, mostly painkillers. (Andrew Laker, The
There is a movement afoot in Colorado to push doctors toward doing what they already should be doing before prescribing dangerous opioid painkillers. And that is to routinely check a state registry meant to deter abuse.

It's a good idea, and we look forward to seeing legislation that, in conjunction with technological fixes making the registry more easily used, could make a real difference.

When you're ranked No. 2 in the nation for abuse of prescription painkillers — as Colorado is — action is required.

That ranking came out of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and covered 2010 and 2011. It coincides with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a "public health epidemic" of prescription painkiller abuse.

One of the ways to tackle that problem is through a prescription drug monitoring database. In 2005, Colorado lawmakers created one.

It is a secure database of controlled-substance prescriptions that pharmacies have dispensed.
The idea is that those who prescribe addictive painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, should check to see if patients are getting multiple prescriptions for more pills than they need.
But as The Denver Post reported in 2012, doctors and pharmacies check the registry only 10 to 15 percent of the time before dispensing such drugs.

We spoke with policy advisers from the governor's office and a professor from the University of Colorado's pharmacy school who said they are working with lawmakers to shape legislation requiring doctors to sign up for the registry. That's different from forcing them to use it, but it would be a useful step.

Also, the legislation would make it possible for a designated professional in a doctor's office to access the registry in order to increase its use. Technological changes also are being pursued to make the database less clunky.

The bill would be one piece of a broad strategy that involves a public health campaign about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and safe disposal of unneeded medications.

Prescription drug abuse is a problem that can be reduced, but it will require a concerted effort to get everyone who must play a part moving toward the same goal.