Are doctors or patients responsible for overdoses? - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Are doctors responsible for the spike in prescription drug overdoses?

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Prescription drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in cases investigated by the Vanderburgh County Coroner's Office.

There were 47 drug overdoses last year and already 20 this year. Officials say the alarming part is that these deaths are a result of legally obtained prescription drugs.  

Doctors at Deaconess Hospital see patients that come in strictly looking for pain pills.

Doctors here have the option to check a patient's medical history with Indiana Inspect to see if that patient is visiting several doctors for the same drugs.  

"I think that the biggest common misconception is that it's street drugs that are causing the deaths. We very rarely see a street drug death. We see, almost exclusively, prescription medications have caused the overdose and the death and that these are legally obtained," Chief Deputy Coroner Steve Lockyear said.

Lockyear said the long-time practice of "doctor shopping" is putting narcotics in the hands of long-time abusers.  

"People tend to go from hospital to hospital ,doctor to doctor, and these people seek out those doctors that will prescribe medications," Lockyear said.

Officials say emergency rooms are revolving doors for "doctor shoppers."

Lockyear says emergency rooms and all physicians have access to Indiana Inspect.

The prescription drug monitoring program is intended to make patient safety a top priority. 

Lockyear said doctors should use the program and the coroner's office does use the program for every overdose case.

When checking the records of a recent overdose victim, the Inspect report revealed a pattern of "doctor shopping."

"Literally hundreds of pills in one month, and this is something not only January, but something that has been going on for numerous months, if not years," Lockyear said.

But the report isn't shocking, Lockyear said.

The patient in this case was receiving high counts of addictive pain killers, from several doctors, several times a month.
 
Had the patient's doctors checked the Inspect report, it could have prevented an overdose.

"If they had seen that this person had been prescribed numerous narcotics from various doctors, would at least caution them before they give them more and maybe seek different treatments for that patient," Lockyear said.

Lockyear said only about one-third of Indiana doctors use the voluntary program.  

The program, however, is mandatory for pharmacies and dispensaries to report to.

Dr. Gina Huhnke, Co-Medical Director of the Emergency Room at Deaconess Hospital, said they use Inspect on a case-by-case basis.  

"It's our choice whether or not we choose to look at Inspect based on how many prescriptions we think this patient might have received previously," Dr. Huhnke said.

So who's responsible for prescription drug overdoses, the abuser, or the medical professional who put those drugs in their hands?

"Obviously it's very difficult for the medical profession be held responsible for what should be a patient responsibility," Dr. Huhnke said. 

Huhnke said it is the patient's responsibility to tell Emergency Room staff which drugs they are taking. 

Indiana is one of 42 states with a prescription monitoring program.

Kentucky's system, Kasper, works in a similar fashion. However, state law requires medical professionals to check a patient's record in the system before writing a prescription.

Illinois also has a prescription monitoring program. 


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