Lawmakers Ask Medical Board to Create Statewide Database of Doctors Who Overprescribe

 

A Los Angeles County doctor named Lisa Tseng was charged with murder in 2012 after three of her patients died due to prescription drug overdoses. Tseng is just one of many doctors who overprescribe, and lawmakers are now asking the California Medical Board to take proactive steps to stop these dangerous physicians, explained California injury lawyer James Ballidis.

In March 2012, ABC News reported that Lisa Tseng, an osteopathic physician in California, had been charged with three counts of murder. Tseng was facing the murder charges for prescribing dangerous drugs to patients who didn’t really need them without following proper medical guidelines.

Tseng was writing an average of 25 prescriptions every single day over a three-year period of time for dangerous and addictive drugs such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. She was prescribing these medications without regard to her patients’ medical histories and the possibility that they were addicted to these drugs.

Tseng’s bad behavior when it came to prescribing drugs is not unique. The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that more than 200 physicians since 2003 have been arrested in conjunction with an involuntary overdose by a patient, and many of those physicians have been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

The Los Angeles Times also indicates that there were 3,733 deaths in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties from 2006 to 2011 due to prescription overdoses and that the deceased had a prescription for one or more of the drugs leading to death in 47 percent of cases.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on March 11, 2013, Assemblyman Richard Gordon, who co-chairs a joint legislative panel responsible for overseeing the medical board, believes that the board needs to be more proactive in protecting patients from overprescribing.

The suggestion from lawmakers is that the Medical Board of California mines a statewide database containing information on prescription drugs. The database is called CURES and it keeps track of prescriptions that doctors write.

The Medical Board is now being urged to use CURES to identify doctors who might be prescribing drugs recklessly. The use of the database in this manner is revolutionary, as the database has always been primarily used to identify doctor-shopping patients (patients who go from doctor to doctor to get multiple prescriptions).

There are, however, some concerns about whether CURES should be used to try to find doctors that prescribe recklessly. One concern is that physicians might be deterred from prescribing pain medication for legitimate purposes out of concern that they would trigger a red flag. Another issue is that CURES is only used on a limited basis even for its intended purpose because the system has technical shortcomings and a very small budget.  Finally, yet another problem is that it is difficult to obtain medical records even when a physician might be doing something wrong.

Medical board president Sharon Levine indicated that lawmakers tend to be reluctant to grant subpoenas for medical records based on data from CURES unless a patient had signed a complaint. Thus, even if there was reason to suspect that a doctor might be doing something wrong, it might be difficult or impossible to get the evidence to prove it. Lawmakers would have to change the standards or relax the rules in order to ensure that doctors identified through CURES as overprescribing could be fully investigated.  This, too, could prove controversial among those who argue that the use of CURES to investigate doctors is overreach.

Despite the controversy, something needs to be done to stop the most dangerous doctors from overprescribing. As the Los Angeles Times reported, there are a small handful of physicians who are responsible for the vast majority of the prescription drug deaths. Specifically, just 71 doctors (0.1 percent of all practicing physicians) were responsible for writing the prescriptions that resulted in 298 deaths between 2006 and 2011.

If these physicians were identified and stopped, lives could be saved. Since the CURES database exists already, it seems a simple and obvious solution to extend the legislative authority of the medical board to permit them to review the information in the database to find doctors that are putting patients in danger.

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