(MintPress) – After listening to the heart-wrenching testimony of parents whose children had died from prescription drug overdoses, lawmakers in Sacramento called for the Medical Board of California to mine a statewide database of prescriptions in order to identify doctors who “recklessly prescribe narcotics.”
Wearing matching T-shirts with the word “ENOUGH” across the chest, many parents who lost their children to prescription drug overdoses criticized the medical board for doing little or nothing to stop doctors from unnecessarily prescribing prescriptions.
James Kennedy, an Orange County man said his son, Joseph, paid cash for prescriptions for methadone and Xanax from a doctor so well known among addicts that he had been dubbed the “candy man.” Kennedy said Joseph fatally overdosed three years ago, and added that the doctor who prescribed Joseph the drugs is still practicing.
“The medical board does nothing to police their own,” Kennedy said.
Tim Smick, whose 20-year-old son, Alex, fatally overdosed last year after being prescribed drugs by a doctor, agreed with Kennedy.
“I’m a contractor. In my industry, if somebody dies on my job, the job is immediately stopped and everybody goes home,” Smick said. “How many more deaths will be allowed before the California medical board stops dangerous doctors who fail to adhere to their own industry standard?”
“If we are going to take seriously the role of patient protection, then we have to be proactive in determining if there is a pattern of overprescribing,” said Assemblyman Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park), who co-chairs a joint legislative panel that oversees the medical board.
While the state’s medical board does investigate physician misconduct, it only does so in response to a complaint. But on Monday, lawmakers encouraged the board to actively look for patterns of reckless prescribing in the state’s database, known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System or CURES.
CURES is a controversial program in California’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) which allows pre-registered users, which include those licensed to prescribe controlled substances, pharmacists, law enforcement and regulatory boards to access a patient’s controlled substance history.
Described by the state’s justice department as a “valuable investigative, preventative and education tool for law enforcement, regulatory boards, educational researchers and the health care community, the idea behind the program is that if doctors and pharmacies have access to this information they would be able to both prescribe better pharmaceuticals and ensure that the patient is not abusing a variety of prescription drugs.
Currently the database is used in California to identify “doctor-shopping” addicts — persons who obtain multiple prescriptions from different doctors.
A recent study by the University of Colorado Denver found that the number of Americans seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse increased 500 percent between 1997 and 2007, meaning more young people are abusing prescription drugs.
As Mint Press News reported earlier, the increased abuse of prescription drugs led to a 129 percent increase in emergency room visits between 2004 and 2007, and the number of deaths caused by prescription overdose tripled between the 1990s and 2007.
CURES database contains more than 100 million entries of drugs that were prescribed in California, but some physician groups have expressed concerns that the widespread use of the database would discourage doctors from prescribing legitimate prescriptions for patients for fear they would be targeted and investigated for physician misconduct.
Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) said that if physicians are “doing everything right, then [they] have nothing to worry about,” said Hernandez, an optometrist whose privileges include writing prescriptions for narcotics. “It shouldn’t bother anybody who is practicing ethically.”
“There is a way to balance the due process rights of a physician with patient protection. I’m not convinced that that line has been well drawn at this moment. We may need to redraw the line,” Gordon said.
Monday’s hearing was part of a review process that renewed the state’s medical board’s legislative authority. A large chunk of the hearing focused on issues raised in articles from the Los Angeles Times (LA Times), which found that drugs prescribed by doctors played a role in nearly half of the prescription drug overdose deaths in Southern California from 2006 through 2011.
The LA Times reported 71 physicians prescribed drugs to three or more patients who would eventually overdose and die. According to the articles, the medical board was largely unaware of the deaths. When the board was aware of possible physician misconduct, its investigations dragged on for years, and patients often died before the investigation was completed.
Medical board President Sharon Levine told lawmakers that the articles helped raised “the profile and visibility of this issue,” saying it was one that “everyone underappreciated.”
Levine said it was clear that doctors in California were prescribing too many dangerous narcotics, and attributed the problem to mandatory physician training in the state that emphasized the use of drugs to treat pain “despite very little medical evidence” that they work on a long-term basis for most patients.
“We do have a physician workforce that we need to re-educate,” Levine said. “In many ways, physicians have been misled by people exhorting them to treat pain.”
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