“DEA arrests doctors in largest-ever crackdown on illegal Rx drugs.” Headlines like
this feed apprehension and concern throughout the legitimate medical professions in the
United States because it’s true and it’s happening. “Operation Pilluted,” is just one program
that has officially been shifted into high gear by both state and federal officials.
Every day we’re hearing more disturbing facts about prescription drug misuse. According
to the Centers for Disease Control, more people are dying from accidental drug overdoses than those who are killed in automobile accidents. In 2013, 44,000 people lost their
lives from drug overdoses and about 40,000 died in automobile accidents. (Forty percent of these deaths came from driving while impaired, which demonstrates even more collateral damage.)
What’s causing this startling increase? Improper use of Hydrocodone, Oxycodone,
Morphine, Methadone and Xanax are a few of the leading causes. The DEA raids are primarily concentrating on those unscrupulous individuals and pill mills dealing in illegal drug prescriptions. These people are profiting from the misery of others. Overdoses from prescription drugs have more than tripled between 1999 and 2010.
Another attention-grabbing statistic that the researchers uncovered was that the majority
of people who misused prescription drugs obtained them at no cost from friends
or family. Interestingly, chronic abusers received only about one-third or 27 percent of their drugs from physicians. This is where the conundrum comes into play. If you’ve
worked your entire life to become a doctor; four years of undergraduate school, medical
school, a residency, and possibly a fellowship, the last thing a physician needs would be to
have their license revoked and their ability to earn a living removed from them because
of these prescription problems and mistakes. But it’s sometimes very difficult for physicians to know when their patients are being truthful.
There have been plenty of calls to change what is occurring in the U.S. health system
including better education for the medical professions and the recent implementation of
stricter guidelines implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beside abuse of the controlled drugs taken by the patients, diversion is another
issue of concern. I’ve had physicians tell me that in order to continue to get their pain
medication, patients continue to complain about their pain, and that same medication is
distributed to relatives or on the street.
“We are not the police, but we have an ethical standard to maintain and a social commitment to protect the patient and the public,” commented Dr. Yi Yan Hong, a practicing pain specialist who has worked in Johnstown for more than 15 years. Dr. Hong believes that the blight of drug abuse and the recent overdoses of heroin are destroying the community and the region. Heroin, which is an illegal narcotic, is becoming cheaper and more abundant as a major drug of choice.
The recent tragic passing of Prince serves to remind us that, without proper treatment
targeted to their needs, patients with a chronic pain condition are at risk of drug
addiction and possible death. It was suggested a physician may have unknowingly contributed to Prince’s death by prescribing strong pain killers to the singer for his hip condition without knowing the extent of his secret opiate addiction.
Dr. Hong is an advocate for utilizing drug screening technology as a part of the modern
pain management regimen in order to monitor possible aberrant behaviors. It’s imperative
that physicians in high drug use geographic areas begin to regularly protect themselves
by testing patients on a regular basis. If testing shows possible drug abuse issues, better communication is needed in order to continue to provide safe and effective treatment.
Unfortunately, no one knows the answers to best tackle all these issues, but I do believe
that a better coordinated effort among the professionals, additional drug testing, and a multidisciplinary approach can help in handling this difficult problem.
WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? Nick’s Big Idea ties to the quote often attributed to John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” His work in regional healthcare speaks to this.
Nick turned Windber Medical Center into a Planetree Facility. He stresses that you’re not creating what people will like. You’re creating what people will love.