The Rx Drug Wars: A New Hope

Friday, August 16, 2013 - by Alix C. Michel and David J. Ward

Right now, a very real war between good and evil is playing out, and it is not playing at your local movie theater. It’s playing out in our own communities between the forces of evil (which includes rogue physicians, doctor shoppers, drug dealers and others) against our newborns, teenagers, injured workers, middle-aged women, and our elderly. The ultimate goal: to get as many of those people addicted to prescription painkillers and then feed their habit. 

The ravages of this war are visible everywhere. From the soaring number of deaths caused by prescription painkillers (every 19 minutes someone dies from a prescription drug overdose), to the growing number of addicted babies (a baby is born in the United States with symptoms of opioid withdrawal every hour), this appears to be a war that evil is winning and threatens to doom our society’s future. The strategies to stem these losses have included the adoption of prescription monitoring programs, heightened law enforcement and tougher sentencing guidelines. Yet the epidemic continues to attack from all sides, like the multi-headed hydra of Greek mythology.

The depths of this problem became painfully clear in the May 1 Public Broadcasting Special titled Doctors Warn Prescription Drug Abuse Can Have Fatal Consequences when Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated: “When I went to medical school, the one thing I was told was completely wrong.  The one thing I was told was if you give opioids to a patient who is in pain, they will not get addicted.   Completely wrong.  Completely wrong.  But a generation of doctors, a generation of us grew up being trained that these drugs aren’t risky.” Sadly, we can add a generation of well-meaning doctors as unwitting participants in fueling this deadly epidemic. 

But out of these very troubled times, a new hope is emerging: focused efforts by the medical community to educate (and in some cases re-educate) everyone of the dangers from the non-responsible prescribing and use of painkillers. Two of the most impressive efforts have come from well-respected healthcare organizations in our own state, The Tennessee Medical Association and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. They are:

-         The TMA’s Brochure 

Earlier this year, the TMA partnered with the TN Department of Health and several other healthcare provider associations/agencies to develop a brochure that can be used to help educate patients on Tennessee’s new Prescription Safety Law. The Brochure describes aspects of the drug epidemic and explains why physicians will be asking patients more and more questions about their own prescription drug use. The Brochure also provides helpful tips regarding the responsible use of prescription drugs. This Brochure is available on the web for all TN healthcare providers to use.

-         The ETCH NAS Conference 

On Sept. 13, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, a leader in the treatment of addicted babies, will hold a one-day conference entitled “The Hidden Epidemic, Living With Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and What the Future Holds.” Sadly, earlier this month Tennessee reported its 432nd addicted baby born this year. On the heels of that news, the ETCH conference sold out almost immediately and due to the overwhelming response from the community, the conference will now also be simulcast live via the web. 

As more and more members of the healthcare community follow the lead of the TMA and ETCH in actively fighting against the deadly prescription drug epidemic, they offer all of us a new hope that we can rescue what seemed to be a lost future.

Alix C. Michel and David J. Ward are lawyers with a combined 50 years of legal experience, primarily in medical and professional malpractice and prescription drug abuse matters. Their expertise in prescription drug abuse prevention is sought nationwide. Michel and Ward presented on “The Legal Issues of Prescription Drug Diversion, Signs and Strategies” at the first National Rx Drug Abuse Summit and can be reached at either alix@michelandward.com or david@michelandward.com.

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