The dangerous practice of over prescribing opioid narcotics is one of the leading causes of the prescription drug epidemic facing America. Certain doctors who have been identified as having prescribed upwards of 10,000 narcotic prescriptions in just one year, operating what are known as “pill mills.” Using prescribing data, Medicare has started to identify doctors who have a history of over prescribing; Medicare will soon have the authority to ban doctors from the program for unsafe prescribing practices, USA Today reports.
The drugs of concern are Schedule II, the government classifies them as having a high potential for abuse.
A doctor in Huntsville, Alabama, wrote more than 14,000 Schedule II prescriptions in 2012. He had his controlled-substances certificate suspended by the state medical board, and surrendered his medical license.
About 38 million seniors and disabled people are covered under Medicare’s drug program, Part D; the program pays for more than one of every four prescriptions dispensed in this country. Medicare was called to action after the Government Accountability Office highlighted abuse of opioids in Part D.
“It’s a real area of concern for us,” said Shantanu Agrawal, a physician who is director of the Center for Program Integrity within the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
12 of Medicare’s top 20 prescribers of drugs such as oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and Ritalin have faced disciplinary actions by their state medical boards or criminal charges.
A ProPublica analysis found that 269 providers wrote at least 3,000 prescriptions for Schedule II drugs in 2012. The largest concentrations of these doctors were found in Florida (52), followed by Tennessee (25). Historically, the southern states have had a high rate of “pill mills” and “doctor shopping.”
Letters were sent by Medicare to 760 physicians who were found to have prescribed the most Schedule II drugs. What’s more, the agency also sent information about 71 doctors for possible investigation to the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Simply being an outlier doesn’t establish that you’re doing something wrong,” said Shantanu Agrawal. “What we are trying to do is give physicians the ability to assess themselves, given their comparative data.”