More than 600 doctors have been disciplined over the past five years for overprescribing narcotics in seven Appalachian states, a region particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis, an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found. Some doctors were well-meaning but uneducated on the addictive powers of opioids. Others were greedy, and still others did it to feed their own drug abuse. Their actions fueled patient addictions, led to fatal overdoses, and funneled millions of pills to the streets.
While medical boards in the most aggressive states have endorsed opioid-prescribing guidelines and demanded that physicians get continuing education on the dangers of narcotics, Pennsylvania has, as yet, done neither.
Lea Ann Marlow wasn't alone among physicians who doled out painkillers like lollipops and attracted a devoted interstate patient population. She may have been the only one brazen enough to claim to drive a car decorated with a vanity plate reading “Tilulae Regina” -- pill queen.
“I don’t think many of these doctors really wanted to hook their patients and turn them into addicts. They just didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t practice very safe medicine," said one addiction treatment specialist.
“I can’t do this anymore”: In one week, rural Washington County came face to face with the crippling opioid epidemic. Many of those who overdosed on heroin began by abusing painkillers prescribed by their doctors.
Although other states started to curb prescribing years ago, Pennsylvania trailed until this year, and consistently disciplined fewer rogue doctors, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in May. On Wednesday, in a string of unanimous votes, the General Assembly began to catch up.
Ten newborns struggling through withdrawal, 11 overdose reports, four autopsies. The opioid crisis creates ripples of pain and frustration that course through the lives of family members, medical professionals, police, judges and forensic pathologists.
This year, Pennsylvania caught up with the regulatory steps of many of its neighbors, as Gov. Tom Wolf and legislators from overdose-plagued districts wrote and passed new laws. Initial data suggests that attention to the overprescribing of opioids — widely blamed for starting addictions that progress to heroin use — has started to affect doctors’ decisions. Highmark data showed that the number of prescriptions for opioids it reimbursed in each of the past three months was lower than in any of the prior nine months. UPMC Health Plan said that 16 percent of its insured population received at least one opioid prescription this year, down from 20 percent in 2015.
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