The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

December 9, 2012

Give MDs weapon to fight pill scammers

— Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the nation in drug overdose deaths with 15.1 for every 100,000 population. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 Morbidity and Mortality Report.

It’s probably no coincidence then that physicians say prescription medication misuse in the commonwealth is one of the worse in the nation.

And while many people understand the problems involved with illegal street sales and prescription drugs being stolen in home break-ins, few probably realize that drugs are being obtained in large quantities by successful pill-scamming doctor shoppers.

“Very likely at this moment,” says the Pennsylvania Medical Society, “a pill-scamming doctor shopper is planning a visit to an emergency room, clinic or physician’s office in your community to gain access to a controlled substance that may not be needed.

“Unfortunately, this happens, and the outcome is never good. Pills are abused and misused, sometimes sold on the streets, and sometimes the cause of deaths.”

Physicians are all too aware that they are being targeted and they are asking and deserve the help of our Legislature in the battle. Here’s what needs to happen:

Pennsylvania doctors are at a disadvantage in the fight against pill scammers. Neighboring states have adopted controlled-substance databases that allow physicians to know if someone has been prescribed and filled a narcotic through another physician.

In fact, it’s believed the Keystone State is the only one in the nation still without a database program.

That’s totally unacceptable.

Members of the Pennsylvania Medical Society this fall launched a campaign, “Pills for ills, not thrills,” to help educate physicians statewide and the public on the problem of pill-scamming doctor shoppers while suggesting to the Legislature that it’s time to create a controlled-substance database for physician use.

“No doctor wants to be scammed,” Dr. C. Richard Schott, PAMED president, said. “Scammers waste valuable time that could be spent with patients who have truly painful conditions, and furthermore divert medications away from proper use.”

With the end of the legislative cycle, new legislation needs to be introduced in 2013.

“There are always rumors that we hear at the Capitol, and the latest rumor is that there is interest in passing something in the next legislative session,” reported Chuck Moran, the association’s director of media relations.” He added:

“It’s important to get legislation reintroduced in a manner that builds a useful tool for physicians to tap when they suspect the person sitting in their exam room is a pill-seeking doctor shopper.

“We need to be careful that good intentions don’t get derailed and this turns into something that it shouldn’t be. The majority of patients are honest people with legitimate pain. There won’t be a need for their doctors to check a database in many situations.

“So we also need to be careful not to have legislation that would create an administrative burden or delay care for those with legitimate pain.”

We agree.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society is reaching out for help. We urge our legislative leaders to respond quickly by sitting down with a group of physicians and mapping a bill to establish a database.

Today, Pennsylvania remains one of only two states in the entire nation (the other is Utah) to hold a monopoly on liquor sales. We now learn that we’re probably the last state without a controlled-substance database for physicians.

The upcoming legislative session would be a good time to end our embarrassments.

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