(NaturalNews) U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has contacted health officials in 34 states to see if they are imposing any accountability on doctors who over-prescribe dangerous prescription drugs.
In 2010, Grassley wrote to officials in all 50 states requesting statistics on doctors who prescribed antipsychotics, anti-anxiety drugs and painkillers to Medicaid patients at the highest rates. In the most recent letters, Grassley inquired of 34 states whether these top prescribers have been investigated in any way. He also asked a number of other questions, including whether the doctors are still eligible for Medicaid reimbursement, whether they have been reviewed to state medical boards for investigation, and whether any systems have been set up to track and prevent over-prescribing of dangerous drugs.
"These types of drugs have addictive properties, and the potential for fraud and abuse by prescribers and patients is extremely high," Grassley wrote in Monday's letters. "When these drugs are prescribed to Medicaid patients, it is the American people who pay the price for over-prescription, abuse, and fraud."
Grassley, who is the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has made greater health care transparency one of his signature causes. In addition to having high abuse potential, the drugs singled out in Grassley's letters are some of the biggest costs in Medicaid drug spending.
In addition to the 34 letters, Grassley is sending an additional 12 to the states that never responded to his 2010 inquiry. The remaining four states provided enough information to the first letter that Grassley has not deemed any followup necessary.
Since the initial letters were sent, Arizona, Louisiana, New York and Oklahoma have all removed some of their top-prescribing doctors from Medicaid, while California has placed restrictions on as many as 20 doctors.
Some of the responses to Grassley's 2010 inquiry are astonishing. For example, Maine's top prescriber of the painkiller Oxycontin wrote nearly twice as many prescriptions for the drug (1,867) as the next-highest prescriber. The same doctor also wrote nearly three times as many prescriptions for the painkiller Roxicodone as the second-highest prescriber.
Ohio's top prescriber of the antipsychotic Abilify issued 13,825 prescriptions for the drug in 2009, an average of 54 every single weekday! But the top prescriber of the antipsychotic Seroquel blew those numbers out of the water, issuing 18,890 prescriptions, or an average of nine per hour. These Medicaid-funded prescription binges cost Ohio taxpayers $6.7 million and $5.7 million, respectively.
"After an extensive review of prescribing habits of the serial prescribers of pain and mental-health drugs in Ohio, I have concerns about the oversight and enforcement of Medicaid abuse in your state," Grassley wrote. "While I am sensitive to the concerns of misinterpretation of the data you provided, the numbers themselves are quite shocking."
Prescription epidemic dwarfs illegal drug abuse
Health experts are increasingly warning that prescription drug abuse now dwarfs abuse of illegal "street" drugs. For example, an analysis of nearly 200,000 Florida autopsies conducted in 2007 showed that three times as many people died from legal drugs than from cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine use combined.
"The abuse has reached epidemic proportions," said Lisa McElhaney, a sergeant in the pharmaceutical drug diversion unit of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. "It's just explosive."
Yet rather than reigning in Big Pharma, the government continues to pour money into the failed "drug war," which has led only to higher crime rates while often actually increasing the availability of street drugs. That's why in June 2011, a group of prominent former world leaders called for a shift to treating all drug abuse as a health problem rather than a criminal one.
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