The disease of addiction does not discriminate – even against those we trust to properly prescribe powerful drugs. Nurses. Doctors. Pharmacists.
News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern analyzed 6 month’s worth of disciplinary action reports centered around medical professionals in Tennessee. She discovered an alarming number involve over-prescribing or addiction to narcotics. In the most recent report alone, from May 2015, 5 of the 8 reports (not including those for unpaid student loans) for medical professionals in the Tri-Cities area involved prescription drugs.
Between December 2014 – May 2015, disciplinary action reports for medical professionals in the Tri-Cities area reveal everything from sexual misconduct with patients they’re prescribing narcotics, a registered nurse diverting painkillers for personal use for nearly a year before pleading guilty to DUI and other drug charges, another registered nurse slurring her words, repeatedly nodding off, a physician not documenting patient histories and treatment plans to justify the “chronic prescribing of Suboxone with benzodiazepines,” and a pharmacist continuing to fill a controlled substance prescription for a patient after the prescription was cancelled and in large quantities, and more.
Baeteena Black is the Program Director of the Tennessee Pharmacists Recovery Network (TPRN), and told News Channel 11, “It’s not surprising to see that we – perhaps went too far from not adequately treating people who have pain to OVER treating and OVER prescribing.”
“There’s no doubt about that this has contributed to the prescription drug abuse epidemic because we know most people get their medications off the street that they’re addicted to from a friend or family – and that came from one doctor. And so, that’s concerning,” Sarah Melton, clinical pharmacist and Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University said.
“What has emerged through treatment of patients is, we’ve created a population that has become drug-dependent. Dependency could be psychological and go all the way to addiction. These people have become drug-seekers because of their disease state, and that has resulted in prescribers practitioners to have somewhat taken advantage of that situation for their own profit. And so, these are the individuals who I think you see the regulatory board taking a look at, and in fact going after in terms of discipline,” Black said.
Black said generally speaking over the last 4-5 years, TPRN’s program numbers have been fairly steady.
Both Black and Melton say growth in the use of Tennessee’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database has helped pinpoint and highlight the scope of a problem that has grown over time. For some prescribers, it’s a lack of education.
“What we’re doing, is taking 4-hour continuing education programs free of charge to these prescribers and talking about appropriate prescribing of controlled substances. How you use the prescription drug monitoring program, why are prescribers getting into trouble? We have an attorney who represents these providers that will come in and talk to them about it, and we also talk about how to refer your patients into appropriate treatment,” Melton said.
Kylie: “Has it scared you or surprised you at all, the lack of knowledge of some of these professionals?”
Sarah Melton: “It hasn’t really surprised me, since I’ve been through the system and know that the education that is provided is not enough. But it’s extremely concerning when people will prescribe the medications and not have the knowledge about how to appropriately prescribe it, and more importantly, how to monitor their patients that they have prescribed the substances for.”
For other professionals, the challenge is battling the disease of addiction themselves. But there is help available for these individuals to get into recovery programs and keep their medical license.
“They definitely work, I mean they require usually inpatient rehab for a period of 3-months or so, and then very close monitoring with urine drug screens or blood testing, and following up with 12-step programs, which we know are very effective,” Melton said.
Black urges all healthcare providers struggling with addiction to seek help sooner rather than later, stressing that help is available.
If you want to know more about your doctor or pharmacist, the tools News Channel 11 used to pull disciplinary action reports are right at your fingertips. Simply click here to type in the name of the medical professional you’re searching for. Click here for a monthly breakdown of disciplinary action reports across the state.
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