Leading consumer advocates today called upon the legislature to hold hearings and investigate strong new laws in response to recent Los Angeles Times reports on widespread drug overdoses due to physician overprescribing and the recent case of a convicted methamphetamine-using drug-dealing doctor who will be treating patients again within a year. Consumer Watchdog asked the Governor and legislative leaders in a letter to consider random drug testing of physicians. The advocates, who have already qualified one initiative measure for the next ballot to regulate health insurance rates, said that voters would not tolerate legislative inaction.
The recent Los Angeles Times series, which uncovered 71 physicians whose prescriptions have led to three or more deaths, and the decision Friday by the state medical board to allow Dr. Nathan Kuemmerle to treat patients again after pleading guilty to felony drug dealing, prompted Consumer Watchdog to call for hearings and legislative action.
“The recent investigation and past decades of experience show that patients are not safe from drug using and drug dealing doctors,” wrote Consumer Watchdog’s Jamie Court and Carmen Balber. “One in ten physicians develop problems with drugs or alcohol over the course of their careers, yet continue to practice medicine. These physicians hold the lives of patients in their hands every day.”
“Pilots must undergo mandatory random drug testing because they hold the lives of so many passengers in their hands. Physicians who operate on patients and are in a position to overprescribe or use narcotics themselves should undergo similar mandatory random drug tests,” wrote the advocates. “Patients should not have to fear being treated or operated on by addicted physicians. Unfortunately, there is little deterrence to such malfeasance, as evidenced by the medical board’s restoration of Nathan Kuemmerle’s medical license.”
The letter also urged the Governor and lawmakers to consider moving authority for oversight and prosecution of over-prescribing to the pharmacy board, as is already the case in many states, to data mine information in the state’s prescription drug database to identify problematic prescribing patterns, and to strengthen the doctor disciplinary system and preventive measures to protect patients before they are harmed.
“Prescription drug abuse by physicians is something the public will not tolerate without a remedy that’s reasonable and effective. Though any action to detect and discipline dangerous doctors will undoubtedly bring protestations from the medical establishment, the small minority of physicians that overprescribe and use drugs need to be dealt with quickly and effectively to ensure the safety of California patients. Now is the time to act,” wrote the advocates. “An overhaul of the Medical Board is four decades overdue and necessary to protect patients.”