L.A. Times series on prescription drug abuse — Parts II and III

December 22, 2012, 6:41 pm

Last month, TPR post about Part I of the Los Angeles Times’ investigative series on deaths from prescription drug abuse. Over the last several weeks additional installments have been published. Part II describes “reckless prescribing” by individual California physicians who write for enormous amounts of OxyContin, Xanax, and Soma — among other controlled substances — for patients who travel 350 miles or more to obtain scripts and have them filled. One such doctor was described as writing “more prescriptions than the entire staff of some hospitals” and taking in more than $1 million yearly. Many of the doctors described had numerous patients die of overdose.

Part III identifies “rogue pharmacists” who fill these prescriptions — often with no questions asked although they are required to evaluate them and refuse to provide the medication if they suspect there is no justification. (Although, frankly, this seems to me to put undue burden on the pharmacist, who often does not have anything approaching a doctor-patient relationship with his or her customers.)

Although some of the physicians and pharmacists described in this series have had their licenses revoked or served jail time (one physician was charged with second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of 3 patients), the authors point out that both the California Medical Board and Pharmacy Board have been beset with cuts in personnel and funding, and have resources that are grossly inadequate to deal with the situation. (For example, the Board of Pharmacy has 37 investigators tasked with monitoring 42,000 pharmacists who fill 318 million prescriptions annually.)

The series does not have as much detail about individual cases as I’d like, and does gets repetitive. Not essential, but certainly worth reading.

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