Group Fights for Mandatory Drug, Alcohol Tests for Doctors

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Consumer Watchdog Billboard
Consumer Watchdog Billboard

OAKLAND, Calif. — A Bay Area woman says she went to plastic surgeon Brian R. West for a tummy tuck but left disfigured and in pain.  Later 48-year-old Tina Minasian learned Dr. West was drunk.

"I was angry at first but I was more angry, and outraged when it turns out I wasn't the only victim," said Minasian.

She told KTVU she wouldn't have picked Dr. West had she known about his serious alcohol problem and multiple complaints.

An Oakland billboard, near Franklin and 22nd Street, is the first in the state promoting a new toll-free hotline to report troubled doctors.  Patients and/or health professionals are asked to call (844) DOCS-DUI to file complaints to Consumer Watchdog staffers.

"There is no system to identify, treat and stop dangerous doctors from practicing," said Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Carmen Balber.

The non-profit, Consumer Watchdog, said studies show almost one in five doctors suffer some sort of addiction problem at some point in their career.  The group is supporting an initiative to require doctors to take drug and alcohol tests similar to those taken by pilots and crane operators.

The ballot initiative is the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Initiative, named for the Danville children killed after doctors’ over-prescribed pills to an impaired driver.

On Thursday KTVU spoke to the children’s father, Bob Pack, who said current law is inadequate.

"It precluded me from getting those doctors into court," said Pack.

The initiative also requires doctors to consult drug databases before prescribing drugs and adjusts for inflation the 38-year-old $250,000 cap on medical malpractice suits for pain and suffering.

"It will allow patients who are the victim of medical negligence to get to court and that provides the accountability,” said Pack.

The California Medical Association, which represents 35,000 physicians, told KTVU by email that Consumer Watchdog's support of the initiative is "more than a little confusing and hypocritical that an organization that has repeatedly opposed past legislative efforts to create new physician drug and alcohol treatment programs is now decrying the lack of such programs."

"It’s not a coincidence that this same organization is now attempting to qualify a ballot measure that would raise health care costs on consumers and allow for more trial-lawyer lawsuits against physicians."

In fact, they have explicitly admitted that they are only raising the drug issue because it is an ‘ultimate sweetener’ that ‘polls well’ and will help convince voters to pass their ballot measure.”

Consumer Watchdog says it has collected more than 600,000 signatures, and hopes for about 800,000 by March 24th in order to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot.


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