Patients, MDs fight pain-pill tracking plan
By Doris Bloodsworth
Sentinel Staff Writer
January 17, 2004
Pain patients and doctors who treat them gathered in Orlando on Friday to speak out against a proposed statewide prescription-tracking program and denounce upcoming state and national hearings on prescription-drug abuse.
"These hearings are one-sided, and we believe they're stacked for a pre-determined outcome," said Kathryn Serkes, a spokeswoman for the Tucson, Ariz.-based Association of American Physicians & Surgeons.
"Somehow, it seems that in Florida, that if you have a problem in the system, that it's just much easier to go after doctors and patients, or go after 'drug dealers' and 'addicts,' than to figure out what's really going on here," she said.
Florida legislators are considering a prescription-monitoring system that would allow physicians, pharmacists and law-enforcement officers with active investigations to track so-called scheduled drugs, those that are the most likely to be addictive or abused.
More than a dozen other states have similar programs to curb abuses such as overprescribing, "doctor shopping" -- in which patients go to multiple doctors and get unauthorized prescription drugs -- and diversion of drugs to illegal use.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the bill's sponsor, said the measure passed the first committee vote unanimously and that the Florida Medical Association supports the program. It will be partially funded by Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, which agreed to pay $2 million in November 2002 when the state ended its investigation of the company's marketing.
But some of the pain patients and their advocates said Friday that the database could have a chilling effect on doctors and make them reluctant to treat patients with serious medical problems who depend on powerful painkillers to get by.
Donna Kirkland, a disabled Longwood teacher treated by an Orlando pain-management doctor reportedly under state investigation, said she is concerned about state officials and law enforcement who would have no personal knowledge of her injuries or history monitoring her prescriptions. She said true pain patients are in too much discomfort to allow their drugs to be used illegally.
"The type of pain I have as a chronic pain patient, I wouldn't give away one pill I have, because I need every single one of them," said Kirkland, 53, who said she takes OxyContin for multiple permanent joint injuries.
Dr. Ronald Myers Sr., from Belzoni, Miss., a practicing physician and Baptist minister, said that when doctors are arrested, patients are the ones who suffer. He said he saw evidence of that after an Arkansas doctor was shut down.
"I saw patients withdrawing from their medication, they were going to the emergency room and they couldn't get treatment," he said. "Many of them committed suicide rather than live with their pain."
Myers said that although strong painkillers are perceived as dangerous, over-the-counter medications that contain aspirin or acetaminophen account for 16,000 deaths annually.
But Fasano and Florida drug czar James McDonough said privacy concerns are unfounded. They said the database would ensure legitimate patients and doctors are protected.
Fasano said a federal report showed no one has ever been arrested for leaking private information. The proposed bill makes it a third-degree felony for any unauthorized use of patient information.
"I have heard from no one in the medical community in Florida who is opposing this bill," he said.
Fasano and McDonough wondered why out-of-state groups were so concerned. Fasano said it could be because the software program developed would be shared for free with other states.
McDonough suggested other motives.
"I note that the AAPS is championing a doctor who was convicted of four counts of manslaughter," McDonough said, referring to Dr. James Graves, a Panhandle physician who is serving a 63-year sentence after he was convicted in the deaths of several patients.
But the pain patient advocates say doctors such as Graves are victims, not villains, who have been snared by overly aggressive law enforcement.
Siobhan Reynolds of New York, who produced a documentary on doctors who have been prosecuted, said state officials are misdirecting their efforts.
"Who is standing up for the average Floridian in pain?" she said.
Doris Bloodsworth can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5446.