SANTA MONICA, CA – The California Medical Board must institute new protections against drug-using doctors after waiting years to revoke the medical license of a Bakersfield doctor who was using and selling drugs while on probation, wrote a father harmed by drug abuse and patient safety advocates in a letter today.
Bob Pack, who lost his two children to a drugged driver who was overprescribed narcotics, and Consumer Watchdog called on the Medical Board to: (1) immediately drug test every doctor currently on probation; (2) create a random drug testing procedure for doctors on probation; and (3) require that CURES, the statewide prescription drug database, be checked for every doctor placed on probation.
In the letter, Pack and Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, argued that “[t]he Medical Board repeatedly violated the public’s trust in failing to monitor and respond to Dr. Richard Wallrath’s persistent and continuous acts of negligence, self-dealing, self-prescribing, and illegal sale of controlled substances over the course of three decades. Indeed, through its inaction, the Board has endangered patients and put lives at risk.”
Pack and Balber wrote that, despite the Medical Board’s knowledge of Dr. Richard Wallrath’s use and sale of narcotics, it took years before significant action was taken.
Download the letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrwallrath.docx
“After performing unapproved treatments, failing to prescribe required medication, and injecting a patient with a potentially life-threatening toxin without her informed consent, it took five years for the Medical Board to put Dr. Wallrath on probation for ‘gross negligence.’ During that probation, the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education program rated his progress as a “fail” and Dr. Wallrath was busy illegally prescribing Ambien, Norco, and Vicodin through pseudonyms and to himself, and selling the drugs he did not take. Yet, even after learning that Dr. Wallrath was a clear danger to the public, the Medical Board did not revoke his medical license until last week.”
Pack and Balber noted that Dr. Wallrath’s substance abuse issues are not unique in the medical community, and called for a reevaluation of the Medical Board’s probation program:
“The Medical Board has estimated that nearly one in five physicians have a substance abuse problem at some point during their careers. So it’s especially shocking that the Board stood by and allowed Dr. Wallrath’s abuse and illegal sales of prescription drugs to go on for so many years. How many more Dr. Wallraths will it take before the Medical Board cracks down?
“In order to protect the public from drug-dealing and abusing doctors, immediate actions must be taken. This episode has highlighted the institutional failure of doctors to use CURES as intended, as well as the urgent need to randomly drug test doctors. … If Dr. Wallrath had been drug tested during his probation, his addiction to drugs like Ambien, Norco, and Vicodin would have been uncovered.”
“You can begin to remedy these failures by adopting policies at your upcoming Board meeting to require random drug testing and check CURES for every doctor on probation,” Pack and Balber concluded.
The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act contains the same reforms, that would have identified Dr. Wallrath’s pattern of drug abuse and drug dealing:
“A November ballot measure, the Pack Patient Safety Act, would require the mandatory use of CURES and random drug testing of doctors. If either of these provisions had been in effect, Dr. Wallrath would have been stopped years ago: the Medical Board discovered that none of the six physicians from whom Dr. Wallrath had received prescriptions knew that he was receiving these same medications from other doctors. Use of CURES would have instantly alerted them of Dr. Wallrath’s drug-seeking actions. A single random drug test during his probation would have alerted the Medical Board to his drug abuse.”
Last month, Bob Pack turned in signatures to qualify the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act for this November’s statewide ballot in California, including the random drug testing and mandatory prescription drug database provisions.
The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act would:
· Require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration’s testing of airline pilots, and testing after an adverse event in a hospital
· Require physicians to report suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work by a colleague
· Mandate that physicians check the state’s prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients
· Index for inflation the medical negligence damage cap set by the legislature in California in 1975
One in six of the physician disciplinary actions taken by the California Medical Board since 2003 involved substance abuse by doctors who were caught under the influence at work, self–prescribing drugs, diverting patient medications, DUI convictions, or reckless and illegal prescribing.
Learn more about the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act at http://www.PackAct.org