OpinionEditorial

The prescription drug toll

Medical ResearchPharmaceutical IndustryChemical Industry

If one doctor's prescriptions might be connected to the unnecessary deaths of multiple patients over several years, the state should be asking questions. Times reporters Scott Glover and Lisa Girion analyzed 3,733 prescription drug-related deaths in four Southern California counties, revealing that just 71 doctors — one-tenth of 1% in those counties — had written prescriptions in 17% of such fatalities over six years. One doctor profiled in the stories published Sunday had prescribed medications for 16 patients who subsequently overdosed, according to coroner's reports.

Not that the state has been apathetic about prescription drug abuse. One of the 71 doctors awaits trial on charges of second-degree murder in connection with the overdose deaths of three patients, The Times reported; four others already have been convicted of drug offenses related to prescriptions. But most of the doctors whose patients have gone on to overdose have spotless records with the Medical Board of California.

Perhaps they deserve those records. The doctors singled out by The Times' investigation tend to specialize in pain treatment, and it makes sense that their patients would be somewhat more likely to overdose on painkillers and related medications. If there is any fault, perhaps it lies with the patients for misusing the drugs.

TIMES INVESTIGATION: Legal drugs, deadly outcomes

But that can be determined only by medical experts with access to confidential files. Legislation proposed by state Sen. Curren D. Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles) would help by requiring coroners to report all prescription drug deaths to the medical board. Those reports should include the prescriptions and the names of the doctors who wrote them, which would give the board an aggregated, usable database to discern whether some doctors' prescriptions are connected to multiple fatalities.

Prescription drug abuse is a menace. In 2010, federal researchers reported that emergency room visits resulting from the non-medical use of opioid prescription drugs — often used in pain relief — more than doubled from 2004 through 2008. There were as many visits for those prescription medications as for illegal drugs.

We don't want a return to the days when access to such medications was limited almost solely to terminally ill patients; severe, chronic pain isn't something that patients should have to endure without drugs. Nor should pain treatment specialists be harassed for writing more of these prescriptions than other doctors do. That would make it harder for patients to get medications they honestly need.

VIDEO: Pain doctors talk about their patients

But the increased use of the drugs calls for increased scrutiny of prescription medication overdoses. Putting the right information into the medical board's hands would be a good start.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
Medical ResearchPharmaceutical IndustryChemical Industry
  • State Senate should approve proposed drone regulations
    State Senate should approve proposed drone regulations

    The use of drones could revolutionize business, government and law enforcement. Imagine, for example, small unmanned aircraft flying low to the ground to deliver precise measures of pesticides to agricultural fields, reducing the amount of dangerous chemicals used. Drones already have proved...

  • College campuses are fertile ground for promoting Obamacare
    College campuses are fertile ground for promoting Obamacare

    Much has been made of the need to enroll "young invincibles" under the Affordable Care Act. These are young adults who, according to many, are often uninsured because they think they don't need insurance. They are also critically important to the success of the ACA. Without their...

  • The LAUSD board election matters; voters should turn out
    The LAUSD board election matters; voters should turn out

    On Aug. 12, voters in Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education District 1 will choose between Alex Johnson and George McKenna. The winner will join the LAUSD's seven-member board and will represent some of the region's poorest communities, desperately in need of...

  • Why should Richard Alarcon get a full pension?
    Why should Richard Alarcon get a full pension?

    Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was found guilty last week of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in his district. But even though the jury concluded that he wasn't actually eligible to serve as councilman during the time he was living elsewhere, Alarcon...

  • Congress has moral responsibility to address border children
    Congress has moral responsibility to address border children

    Congress is nearing an impasse over how to deal with the overwhelming flow of unaccompanied minors across the Mexican border. Failure to address this heartbreaking humanitarian crisis before the August recess will stand not only as a political failure, but as a moral one for a Congress that...

  • With Cuéllar, Brown makes another solid choice for state's high court
    With Cuéllar, Brown makes another solid choice for state's high court

    In nominating law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar to the California Supreme Court, Gov. Jerry Brown is continuing a pattern of picking solid, moderately liberal jurists with backgrounds that reflect the diversity of the state's population. Cuéllar, assuming his nomination is...

Comments
Loading