Contra Costa Times Editorial: Time To End “Doctor Shopping” For Addictive Drugs

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It's time for California doctors to get on board with the statewide effort to curb prescription drug abuse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the problem an epidemic. Per-capita use of highly addictive prescription opiates in the United States increased five-fold from 1997 to 2007. Medicare-covered opiate prescriptions increased 24 percent from 2007 to 2010.

One of the key problems is patients who "doctor shop," getting prescriptions from multiple physicians, either to feed their own habits or collect drugs to resell on the street. One remedy is a statewide database that shows doctors whether their patients are also going elsewhere for the same medications.

That database exists but everyone agrees it's inadequate. Thanks to 2013 legislation authored by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, when he was in the state Senate, the system is currently being upgraded.

That work, under the direction of the state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Consumer Affairs, is expected to be completed by this summer. Pharmacists already input all prescriptions for addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Adderall. And, by year's end, all doctors will be required to register so they can access the system.

But there's still no requirement that physicians actually use the database.

Doctors successfully fought DeSaulnier's attempt to include such a mandate in his legislation. And they're fighting it again, this time opposing Senate Bill 482, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which would require that doctors check the database before issuing prescriptions and again once annually for each patient using the medications.

The powerful California Medical Association should get on the right side of this issue to help stem the flow of pills that are destroying lives of patients, as well as children and adults who acquire them on the streets.

Let's be clear, no one is trying to stop the legitimate prescription of pain medications. These drugs, used correctly, can alleviate otherwise disabling symptoms. But we must stem the abuse.

The CMA argues that there's no need for the mandate. It claims doctors will use the database even if they're not required to. Good ones will. The question is why the medical association is trying to protect the others. This should not be optional.

Doctors also say they don't want to be told how to practice medicine. That, of course, misses the point. Lara's bill merely requires that before prescribing for any legitimate use of addictive medications, physicians first take a moment to check their computer.

In doing so, they might save a life. Isn't that what doctors are supposed to do?

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