I stormed a methadone clinic in Idaho to put on notice a doctor who had been misprescribing Xanax for a woman on methadone therapy. His mistake caused an overdose and she was a hair away from death.
Her family had asked for my help. They had watched their daughter spiral deeper and deeper into the depths of prescription medication addiction. The methadone she was hooked on was supposed to help her get off street drugs, and it did, for a while. But her "dealer" prescribed her Xanax, a popular benzodiazopene used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Xanax is the same type of drug as Valium, and if you take it while you are on methadone therapy, you'll get high as a kite. Physicians know this, but most don't pay attention, and some prescribe with reckless abandon. He wrote her prescriptions for both drugs.
In this busy world, where greed often comes before care, caution is a casualty. The need for profit rises above the promise to help others.
If a physician fails to take a detailed addiction history from ANY patient to whom they prescribe a drug like Xanax, Valium or Oxycontin, they are abandoning their Hippocratic Oath and essentially becoming a dealer. These prescriptions have enormous medical value for a variety of ailments, but without proper screening of patients they are as deadly as cyanide and as disruptive as a loaded gun on a playground.
In some cases, a physician genuinely may not have known what role they played in putting a patient at risk and would react with concern. Other physicians have actually said it was the patient's job to act responsibility -- demonstrating a profound and gross misunderstanding of the disease of addiction, our country's third leading killer. Still other physicians I have seen are almost sociopathic in their disinterest and seemed to have no conscience about their patients or their families after being paid for an office visit.
While I felt a sense of accomplishment in taking action against practitioners and notifying state medical boards of abuse, I think any real impact comes during times when someone loses their life and grabs headlines and the public's attention. We are close to an indictment the headlines in report in the case of Michael Jackson's death. As extraordinary as Michael Jackson's life story was, the story of his death is shockingly ordinary.
My frustration is that Michael Jackson's story is being perceived as unique while it's happening in living rooms across this nation daily, withreal loved ones left behind crying real tears and sharing similar bewilderment that a "real doctor" was involved. But as I have learned as a person in recovery from my own drug addiction, frustration is an emotion we cannot afford. It must be turned into hope.
So my hope is that this coroner's ruling is a wake-up call for more checks and balances in the pharmacy system to prevent abuse of potentially dangerous prescriptions. My hope is that addiction be managed by physicians and the medical establishment in the same way diabetic patients are managed, with their chronic deadly condition at the heart of ALL treatment decisions. And my greatest hope is that I never have to fill out another police report or watch another news story about a doctor who provided a legal, physician directed regimen of a pharmaceutical that amounts to a potential death sentence for one of the 20 million Americans that suffer with addiction.