30 Dec (L.A. TIMES) – Kamala Harris has a powerful tool for identifying reckless doctors, but she doesn’t use it. As California’s attorney general, Harris controls a database that tracks prescriptions for painkillers and other commonly abused drugs from doctors’ offices to pharmacy counters and into patients’ hands.
The system, known as CURES, was created so physicians and pharmacists could check to see whether patients were obtaining drugs from multiple providers. Law enforcement officials and medical regulators could mine the data for a different purpose: To draw a bead on rogue doctors. But they don’t, and that has allowed corrupt or negligent physicians to prescribe narcotics recklessly for years before authorities learned about their conduct through other means, a Times investigation found.
Prescription drug overdoses have increased sharply over the last decade, fueling a doubling of drug fatalities in the U.S. To help stem the loss of life, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that states use prescription data to spot signs of irresponsible prescribing, and at least six states do. California is not one of them.
By monitoring the flow of prescriptions, authorities can get an early jump on illegal or dangerous conduct by a doctor. Among the telltale signs: writing an inordinate number of prescriptions for addictive medications or for combinations of drugs popular among addicts.
Harris’ office keeps CURES off-limits to the public and the news media. But information from a commercial database containing the same kind of data illustrates how valuable CURES could be as an investigative tool.
Private firms purchase prescription data from pharmacies and sell it to drug companies for use in marketing their products. The Times obtained a list from such a database ranking the most prolific prescribers of narcotic painkillers in the Los Angeles area for June 2008.
Of the top 10 doctors on the list, six were eventually convicted of drug dealing or similar crimes or were sanctioned by medical regulators. One of them was a cocaine addict. Some had been prescribing narcotics in high volume for years before authorities caught up with them. At least 20 of their patients died of overdoses or related causes after taking drugs they prescribed, according to coroners’ records.
Had officials been tracking the doctors’ prescriptions in CURES, some of those deaths might have been prevented.
For complete article go to L.A. Times Investigates