OxyContin and other prescription painkillers have fueled a surge in drug overdoses, which in 2009 claimed 39,147 lives, surpassing for the first time traffic accidents as a leading cause of preventable deaths. Two years later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared prescription drug overdoses an epidemic.
Last year, a Times analysis showed that drugs prescribed by doctors played a role in nearly half the prescription overdose deaths in Southern California from 2006 through 2011. Seventy-one doctors prescribed drugs to three or more patients who fatally overdosed. Oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, was one of the most often cited drugs in the deaths.
Concerned by the mounting death toll, a congressional oversight committee in June called three top federal officials to testify about the government’s response to the prescription drug crisis. Louisiana Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy asked why the government wasn’t mining prescribing data to target rogue doctors.
“I’m expecting it’s going to be a small percent writing a lot of the inappropriate prescriptions,” said Cassidy, himself a physician. “What’s the challenge in figuring out which doctors are the bad actors?”
President Obama’s drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, testified that the federal government didn’t have access to such information.
And the drug makers know exactly who is passing out the pills. I’m sure they’ll get right on that, and try to cut down use of their patent protected (and expensive) medicine.
According to Purdue, when the company introduced a tamper-resistant formulation in August 2010, the doctors’ prescriptions for maximum-strength OxyContin — the one favored by addicts — plummeted by 80%. Prescriptions for Opana, a narcotic painkiller made by a rival that could still be crushed and snorted, shot up about 400%, the internal study found. When crush-resistant Opana came out two years later, the same doctors’ prescriptions for that drug also plunged.