California Lawmaker Seeks More Oversight of Prescription Drug Deaths

A California state Senator has been working diligently to introduce a bill requiring coroners to report prescription drug deaths to the Medical Board of California. Senator Curren D. Price Jr., who is also Chairman of the Medical Board of California, hopes the new bill will help to identify medical professionals whose prescribing methods may contribute to prescription drug addiction and overdose.

Prescription overdoses kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined

The proposed legislation is a response to  an LA Times investigation into coroner reports. The investigation revealed that numerous deaths caused by the overuse of prescription pain medication can be linked to a handful of physicians. The Times examined 3,733 prescription drug related deaths that took place between 2006 and 2011 in the counties of Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura. It was revealed that 1,762 cases resulted from overdosing on medications that had been prescribed by doctors. A total of 71 doctors were found to have prescribed drugs to at least 3 patients who died from overdose and addiction. Five doctors had prescribed medications to 10 or more patients who overdosed.

Sen. Price promptly responded to the Times report, stating that it’s an immediate red flag to see one doctor connected to multiple prescription medication overdoses. The Medical Board believes that coroners who don’t report prescription drug deaths have made it difficult to hold doctors accountable for their prescribing methods. On November 1, Sen. Price and California’s Medical Board wrote new legislation attempting to close the misinformation gap. By requiring coroners to report all prescription drug overdoses, the Medical Board can conduct detailed investigations into physicians who prescribed medication to deceased patients and to determine if the reason for prescribing was legitimate.

This new proposed legislation has received favorable comments from coroners and physicians throughout the state. Dr. David Hadden, Fresno County Coroner, told the Times that he sees a small number of prescription drug deaths each year and has no problem with additional reporting requirements. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sergio IIic, President of the Fresno Madera Medical Society, also believes the legislation will be beneficial. New reporting requirements will assist in identifying the large number of physicians who over-prescribe narcotics to patients who don’t need them.

If the new legislation takes effect, doctors will be placed on notice when prescribing medication and may become more cautious. At the same time, Hadden and IIic agree that not all deaths caused by prescription drug overdose are the result of a doctor’s negligence. Patients who ignore drug warnings about mixing drugs and alcohol often contribute to their own deaths. Only time will reveal if this new legislation makes it easier to hold doctors accountable for their prescribing methods.