A Few Doctors Linked to Many Prescription Drug Deaths in Southern California

A small number of doctors are linked to a large percentage of prescription drug-related deaths in Southern California, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper found that in almost half of the 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs in four Southern California counties, those who died had a doctor’s prescription for at least one drug that caused or contributed to the death. In many cases, deaths were caused by use of multiple drugs, sometimes prescribed by more than one doctor. In some cases, prescription drugs were mixed with alcohol or illicit drugs.

The investigation found 71 doctors, or 0.1 percent of all practicing physicians in the four counties, wrote prescriptions for drugs that caused or contributed to 298 deaths. Each of those doctors prescribed drugs to three or more patients who died, the newspaper found. Four of the doctors had 10 or more patients who died from prescription drug overdoses.

Most of the 71 doctors linked with three or more fatal overdoses were pain specialists, general practitioners or psychiatrists. They tended to work alone, without the scrutiny of peers. Four have been convicted of drug offenses in connection with the prescriptions they wrote; a fifth is awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder in the overdose deaths of three patients, the article notes.

The other doctors have not faced criminal prosecution related to their practice of medicine. Most have clean records with the Medical Board of California, which licenses and oversees doctors.

Experts said the findings should lead to closer scrutiny of physicians’ prescribing practices. R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, “Do I think this has the potential to change the game in the way it’s being looked at and being addressed, both at the state and federal level? Yes, I do.”

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    Connie Clark

    December 29, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    My ex partner has been drinking a bottle of vodka a night and chain smoking. The general practitioner he goes to in Orange County, Ca. Has been treating him for emphysema. The doctor now has him on sleeping pills and anti depressants. Because of the lethal combination he almost beat me to death 8 months ago. The doctor is away and yet continues to treat him and prescribe without even a doctor in person visit.

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    November 23, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    As a physician who treats patients with pain pill addiction, I support efforts by state medical boards to root out docs who inappropriately prescribe. But just because a physician is writing high numbers of opioid prescriptions doesn’t mean she is a problem doctor. I suspect the physicians with the most training in pain management medicine have high rates of opioid prescribing, and probably they adhere to best practices.
    To put it another way, a gastroenterologist is likely to have higher colonoscopy complication rate than a psychiatrist who doesn’t do colonoscopies.
    The only way to know if a doctor is practicing bad medicine is to have another doctor review those cases; it’s not appropriate to draw conclusions based on numbers alone, though it could be a starting point for investigation.

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    November 12, 2012 at 4:58 PM

    You should be printing their names in this article or this information won’t help save any lives; isn’t that the point? My own daughter had a female physiatrist (a medical doctor who is a trained pain specialist) who worked alone and SOLD my daughter Actiq…a Fentanyl pop that almost put her six feet under to an early grave. She is still esteemed in Southern Cali and still killing patients by means of horrific addictions to this drug that should only be given in the last days of life in cancer patients. My daughter, then a newlywed, was given this drug for body aches. It caused an abundant amount of physical problems and then, after 5 years, it put her in the hospital to fight for her life.

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