Prescription for Disaster

This is an outstanding article in the May 5, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. It’s about a doctor and his medical practice that prescribed thousands of people with opiate painkillers in Wichita, Kansas from the late 1990’s until around 2010.

While he seemed to truly care about his patients, he was clearly naive and under-trained. Most significantly, he allowed his head-nurse/office-manger/wife to make a number of questionable business and medical decisions.

Many of his patients died and he was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

A few policy points are clearly re-enforced by this article:

(1) each state should have a mandated prescription drug monitoring program

(2) doctors, nurses and medical office managers should be required to get at least 6 continuing education units (C.E.U.’s) every bi-annual period

(3) pharmaceutical sales reps needs to be reined in…this can partly be done by assessing stiff penalties for making off-label suggestions to doctors about how to prescribe drugs (a salient moment in the article is when a Big Pharma sales rep tells a doctor that there is no difference from “pain caused by cancer” and non-cancer pain; “pain is pain,” so you can prescribe pain killers that have only been researched and approved for cancer patients to non-cancer patients)