Task Force Formed to Combat Over-prescribing Doctors, Educate Public

By Rachel Martin

December 6, 2012 Updated Dec 6, 2012 at 12:07 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) – More doctors are under fire as several around the state have been accused of over-prescribing causing the Attorney General’s Office to take action.

At least eight doctors are facing license suspensions for over-prescribing, with several cases involving deaths, according to the Indiana Attorney General's Office.

The latest cases were filed on Monday— one involving Dr. William Hedrick, a Pain Management Specialist with the Centers for Pain Relief of Northern Indiana located in Fort Wayne.

Officials with the AG’s Office say since January, they’ve filed numerous licensing actions against physicians for overprescribing, some of which involve deaths. With the rising number in cases, the AG’s Office created the Prescription Drug Task Force.

The task force is made up of state legislators, law enforcement, health professionals and educators. Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan is part of the local and statewide task forces. She says the task force’s mission is to address legislation that may need improvement, educate health care providers about proper prescribing habits, and educate and increase awareness of prescription drugs to the public.

“We wanted to create a primer for health care providers, really outlining the best practices in terms of prescription narcotics,” she said.

Dr. McMahan says the increase in prescription drug abuse inside and outside the doctor’s office stems from a push that happened in the late 1990s.

“We were too stingy with pain medications. We were afraid people would become addicted and all sorts of issues. [They were] legitimate concerns that physicians had, but the overall effect was they were not controlling patient’s pain. And so there became a really big push to start getting more liberal in terms of being able to control pain for patients.”

She credits that push along with cultural changes, like self-diagnosis, for the problems doctors and patients are facing now. McMahan says doctors aren’t solely to blame.

“We’ve become, in general, more of an unhealthy country in terms of more people being over weight, being out of shape and more prone to injure themselves to have chronic pain. So you’ve got the perfect storm of being really encouraged to be more generous with pain medication and a population of people who are finding more and more that they need it.”

She went on to say, “in America, we don't expect to have any discomfort. We expect to be asymptomatic. There must certainly be a pill, whether it's acid reflux or back pain, there must be something that can make me feel better. So I really think it's multi-factorial.”

But in some cases, McMahan admits it’s just a common mistake. She believes some physicians are over zealous in the amount they prescribe, but it can also be pressure from the patient. McMahan says sometimes it can be the combination of prescriptions that can pose a threat.

“It just kind of gradually occurs. You try this, and this, and this, and this and things can escalate before either of you can realize it,” she said.

McMahan believes that people need to be more responsible overall, and that maybe prescription medication isn’t always the best choice for treatment.

“We need to take a step back and think about what is realistic in terms of controlling pain, and is it really pain that we’re trying to control or should we really be trying to preserve function?” she said. “If someone is going to be overweight and sedentary, they’re probably going to be having some issues that may not ever be completely eradicated.”

The Prescription Drug Task Force’s first plan of attack is to discuss a new pain management system for doctors to help minimize the risk to patients at a statewide symposium Dec. 19. Then, Dr. McMahan says, they’ll focus on public awareness and attempt to change the cultural perspective surrounding pain and how to deal with it.

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