Group Calls For Physician Reforms

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Consumer Watchdog Responds to Prescribing Issues

The Santa Monica-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has called for random drug testing of physicians and several other reforms in the wake of published reports linking dozens of California doctors to the drug overdoses of their patients.

Consumer Watchdog wrote Gov. Jerry Brown and the chairs of the Assembly and Senate business and professions committees in the wake of a recent multi-part investigation by the Los Angeles Times into physicians who may have been prescribing medications without heeding potential patient harm. The newspaper was able to link 91 doctors to at least three patients each who died of prescription drug overdoses.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30,000 Americans die from prescription drug overdoses a year – far more than those who die from illegally obtained drugs. The number of deaths have grown dramatically over the last decade.

The Times also recently reported on one physician, Nathan Kuemmerle, M.D., who was able to retain his medical license after a one-year suspension, even after being convicted of felony drug dealing and admitting to using methamphetamine.

“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,” said a portion of the letter, which was co-authored by Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and Executive Director Carmen Balber. “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 (California) Medical Board's restoration of Nathan Kuemmerle's medical license.”

Court and Balber called on the Legislature to convene hearings on the matter in order to find solutions to the issue of lax prescription and physician oversight, as well as reexamine the Medical Board, which has been criticized in numerous media reports for being too lenient in its discipline of doctors.

“An overhaul of the Medical Board is four decades overdue and necessary to protect patients,” Court and Balber wrote.

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