SANTA MONICA, CA – ABC News 10 reported Sunday that 44% of doctors on probation in San Diego were disciplined for substance abuse or addiction. The report revealed the clear problem with doctors abusing drugs or alcohol yet the California Medical Board is unwilling or unable to act to protect patient safety.
Proposition 46, the patient safety ballot measure to be voted on tomorrow, will require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors and require the Medical Board to suspend a doctor after a positive test and take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty.
The report examined the case of Dr. Flora Danque, who gave one patient more than 7,000 pills of a drug in a single year: an average of more than 19 pills a day. Dr. Danque was put on probation. News 10 also highlighted Dr. Deborah Lyn Aaron, who was driving under the influence, resulting in a deadly crash. Dr. Aaron was also put on probation. Neither Dr. Danque nor Dr. Aaron are required to tell their patients that they are on probation.
"Right now, it takes about 15 to 16 months from the receipt of a complaint to the filing of formal charges — if that happens," Julie Fellmeth, who has spent 27 years monitoring the Medical Board, told News 10. "To get a license revoked, you will have to have multiple offenses and even then it doesn't happen sometimes. If you go on the Medical Board's website, it won't tell you how many complaints that have been filed."
Prop 46 would require automatic suspension if a doctor tests positive for drugs or alcohol.
The California Medical Board has reported estimates that nearly one in five doctors – 18% — will have a substance abuse problem in their lifetimes. The Board also reported that up to 2% of physicians have a substance abuse problem or addiction at any point in time; this means that up to 2,600 doctors in California today are working while impaired. However, over the last decade, the Medical Board has averaged only 34 disciplinary actions for substance abuse every year.
Dr. Stephen Loyd was addicted to prescription drugs for three years and practiced medicine while impaired. At the height of his addiction, Dr. Loyd was taking up to 100 pills a day. Today, Dr. Loyd is a patient advocate and the White House’s Office of Drug Policy 2014 Advocate for Action. He’s also a supporter of Prop 46.
"Just from the numbers, I believe there is 3,000 impaired physicians in the state now," said Dr. Loyd to News 10. "If my cardio surgeon is taking opiates, I don't want him cracking my chest open."
Watch Dr. Loyd’s television commercial supporting Prop 46: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XeRdOMSGUU
Medical insurance companies have given $45 million of the $59 million that opponents of Proposition 46’s patient safety reforms are spending on deceptive TV ads and mailers. Opponents are outspending supporters of Prop 46 more than 8:1.
In addition to random drug and alcohol testing of doctors, as well requiring suspension after a positive test, Proposition 46, also known as the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, will:
• Require the Board to suspend a doctor and investigate a confirmed positive drug or alcohol test and take disciplinary action if the doctor was impaired while on duty
• Mandate that prescribers check California’s existing statewide prescription drug database known as CURES when prescribing to first-time patients, in order to curb doctor-shopping and end the prescription drug epidemic
• Promote justice for patients and legal deterrence to wrongdoing by adjusting California’s cap on compensation for victims of medical negligence to account for 39 years of inflation – the unadjusted cap prevents many victims from holding doctors who harm them accountable.
For more information about the Prop 46 campaign for patient safety, please visit www.YesProp46.org
Paid for by Yes on Prop. 46, Your Neighbors for Patient Safety, a Coalition of Consumer Attorneys and Patient Safety Advocates – major funding by Consumer Attorneys of California Issues and Initiative Defense Political Action Committees and Kabateck, Brown, Kellner, LLP.