California Lawmakers Consider Doctors’ Role in Drug Overdoses

By LAURA OLSON | March 13, 2013

A physician heading California’s medical board told lawmakers on Monday that acquiring information necessary to investigate cases of potential prescription drug abuse poses a challenge to the oversight panel.

Board president Sharon Levine said a complaint is needed to begin a review and determine whether the prescribing doctor bears any responsibility.

“Complaints regarding prescription drug-related offenses can be somewhat difficult for the board to obtain,” Levine told a joint legislative committee that was considering whether to reauthorize the state medical board.

“In many instances, patients who are receiving prescription drugs in a manner that is not within the standard practice are not interested in bringing a complaint to the board,” Levine said.

The Medical Board of California, which licenses and oversees physicians, came under fire following a Los Angeles Times investigation published last year. The newspaper found that drugs prescribed by physicians caused or contributed to nearly half the accidental deaths involving prescription drugs in four Southern California counties.

The newspaper also reported that during the six-year period it reviewed, at least 30 Southern California patients died while their doctors were under investigation. The board sanctioned all but one of those 12 doctors. In most cases, doctors are allowed to continue writing prescriptions after they are sanctioned.

In response to the investigation, board officials had asked those whose relatives died of overdoses to contact them if they believe physician misconduct was a factor in the deaths. Officials also promised to review records of the specific overdose deaths detailed in the newspaper’s investigation.

During Monday’s hearing, Levine commended the newspaper for raising the profile and visibility of the issue. She also said she supported a bill from state Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, that would require county coroners to report any death that is related to prescription drug use to the medical board.

Family members whose loved ones died as a result of prescription drug overdoses also will be among those calling for change at Monday’s hearing.

Those who will testify include April Rovero, whose son died in 2009 after mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. Rovero, who lives in the eastern San Francisco Bay area city of San Ramon, founded the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse after her son’s death.

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