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Prescription pill abuse in Pennsylvania is a growing crisis

With recent reports of drug overdoses in the news, such as the heroin-related death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, most Americans are aware of the dangers of so-called “street” drugs.  But many heroin addicts actually started down the road to illegal drugs through legal prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet.  Pennsylvania medical leaders and the legislature are hoping to bring awareness to this problem in order to avoid the over-prescribing of such drugs and related medication errors.

According to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug poisoning is the number one cause of death in Pennsylvania. That even exceeds the number of fatalities in car accidents. Nationwide, the CDC estimates 100 deaths each day are caused by drug overdoses.

While the individual may make the ultimate decision to abuse a prescription drug, physicians sometimes make it much easier for them. Organizations that govern physicians’ professions are calling on doctors to do more to decrease drug abuse. The state House has approved a measure designed to address this.

The statewide database approved by the House is now under consideration in the Senate. The database would require pharmacies to report any prescriptions for controlled substances that they fill.  By having the patient and doctor names, along with other information, the database could tell how often a single physician prescribes a drug to one patient, as well as monitor patient efforts at “doctor shopping,” i.e., going to several different doctors or pharmacies to get multiple prescriptions for the same medications. The database could prevent a fatal medication error caused by having two prescriptions of one drug at the same time.

While most medical professionals would not knowingly overprescribe a controlled substance, it is incumbent upon doctors to prescribe medications responsibly. Failure to do so could result in a medical malpractice claim against a negligent physician whose patient suffers harm as a result. Whether the patient overdoses or harms someone else while under the influence of a prescribed drug, the physician may be held responsible if drugs were prescribed negligently.

Source: The Mercury, “Doctors: Pill abuse a ‘crisis’ in Pa.,” Carl Hessler, Jr., March 10, 2014