By Alfa · Sep 28, 2004 · ·
  1. Alfa

    Deception, Incompetence and Greed Can Lead to Over-Prescribing

    For years, Dr. Thomas Michael Barrett wrote prescriptions for large amounts
    of pain medication, sometimes in potentially lethal doses. But outside his
    circle of patients, nobody knew just how many pills the San Bernardino
    County doctor was prescribing.

    The first time authorities heard of Barrett was in 2002, when an
    elementary school principal in Big Bear decided a mother was too
    looped to drive her children home. When police arrived, the woman
    showed them prescriptions for morphine, Vicodin and other pain pills
    written by Barrett.

    A few weeks later, a woman who had taken large doses of numbing pain
    drugs slammed her car into another car in Apple Valley. She, too,
    waved a prescription from Barrett.

    When state authorities began investigating Barrett, they found a
    pattern of over-prescribing pain medications that federal health
    officials say is being repeated across the United States by careless,
    inept or greedy doctors.

    The officials say the nation is facing a new drug crisis - with more
    Americans now addicted to prescription drugs than to cocaine, and
    deaths linked to prescription medication increasing in alarming numbers.

    The problem is exacerbated by gaps in policing the state's 89,000
    practicing doctors by the Medical Board of California, which struggles
    to keep up with the complaints it receives.

    Although the board's $35 million annual budget has increased slightly over
    the past four years, its staff of investigators has dropped to 60 from 79
    because of a state hiring freeze.

    Meanwhile, the number of complaints hit an all-time high of 11,566
    last year.

    The board is so overworked that if Barrett's patients hadn't been
    involved in such public incidents, he might never have been caught.

    State Deputy Attorney General Thomas S. Lazar, who works with the
    Medical B
    oard to weed out and discipline bad doctors, said physicians
    over-prescribe for three reasons.

    They do it for greed. They do it because they are incompetent. They do
    it because they are easily deceived.

    "These motives all add up to bad medicine for patients," Lazar

    San Diego County Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner said doctors often
    are so rushed that they write prescriptions as a convenient form of

    "On the average, the patient spends a short time with their physician
    - 11 minutes or less," Wagner said.

    "A patient comes in and says (a drug) has helped in the past, and if the
    person isn't clearly stoned, they will probably get the prescription again.
    If a patient is really sophisticated, they can fool their doctor."

    Medical Board investigator Jim Ball said too many doctors miss the
    signs of addiction or give patients what they want without explaining
    the consequences.

    Busy doctors sometimes issue perfunctory cautions to patients and
    advise them to read the warnings that accompany the drugs, Ball said.

    "But often the stuff never gets read," he said.

    Doctor Shopping

    All Sal Moceri had to do was fib a little to get the pain pills that
    fed his addiction, which began in 1986 after he hurt his back in a
    traffic accident.

    Moceri went shopping for doctors who would prescribe the drugs he
    craved. He said he visited about 100 over the years.

    "Seventy-five of them gave me whatever I wanted without questions,"
    said Moceri, a Mira Mesa resident who says he has been clean since
    2002. "Maybe 10 of them gave me any warnings."

    If any of the doctors gave him a physical exam, it was cursory at
    best, Moceri said. If there was a warning about the addictive nature
    of the drugs, it was usually hurried.

    "When what they prescribed called for taking two every four hours and
    I was taking 60 a day, well what did that tell them?" Moceri said. "In
    my eyes, the doctors are just as guilty as I am."

    Dr. Robert Hertzka, president of the California Medical Association
    and a San Diego anesthesiologist, vigorously defends the vast majority
    of doctors against any broad-brush contention that the blame for
    addictions lies with them. Hertzka said he believes that less than 1
    percent of doctors over-prescribe.

    "I am absolutely convinced that it is anything but a widespread
    problem," he said. "It is a very serious problem, but it's not an
    issue that the average patient needs to be concerned with."

    The Medical Board doesn't track how many doctors it has cited for
    over-prescribing. Since 2001, at least three San Diego County doctors
    have been accused of endangering patients by over-prescribing drugs.

    In an accusation filed in July against Dr. Therese Hunley Yang,
    investigators said the Santee physician lacked the medical knowledge
    to diagnose addictions and properly treat chronic pain.

    Yang noted in her medical records that one of her patients was
    suffering from "drug dependency," yet Yang continued prescribing
    oxycodone-based narcotics in doses up to 10 times the amount commonly
    given, according to the Medical Board's accusation.

    Yang, who declined to discuss her case, was licensed in California in
    1988 and is still practicing medicine while awaiting an administrative
    law hearing.

    Last year, La Jolla doctor Douglas Simay surrendered his license after
    the Medical Board accused him of prescribing painkillers without
    examining his patients and continuing to write prescriptions for
    patients he knew were taking twice as many pills as they should.

    Allied Gardens doctor Katarzyna Rygiel is fighting to get her license
    back after the board revoked it for excessive prescribing, negligence
    and dishonesty. In one instance, Rygiel prescribed a month's supply of
    methadone - 240 tablets - for a patient who then returned 17 days
    later for another month's supply. The patient kept coming back for
    more drugs without Rygiel acknowledging the addiction, authorities

    Simay and Rygiel declined to be interviewed.

    Authorities don't think greed played a motive in any of the San Diego
    County cases. But they say greed is what motivated an Oxnard doctor,
    Michael Huff, and a Ventura pharmacist, Richard Ozar, to improperly
    prescribe and fill OxyContin prescriptions.

    Huff and Ozar, who are awaiting trial, are accused in a 90-count
    federal indictment of putting so much OxyContin into the hands of
    recreational pill-poppers and drug dealers that the indictment said
    they ushered "a new drug culture into the region." Officials say they
    made millions of dollars in the process.

    The case drew so much attention that U.S. Attorney General John
    Ashcroft used it to emphasize that federal authorities will "pursue
    vigorously" those who turn "a legitimate painkiller to a vehicle of
    addiction and death."

    In a more recent case, a New Mexico physician was charged with murder
    after seven people overdosed on pills he prescribed. According to
    court records, Jesse B. Henry Jr. spent six minutes or less evaluating
    his patients and was known as "Doctor Feelgood."

    Earlier this month Henry, 69, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of
    seven counts of involuntary manslaughter and surrendered his medical

    Battling Pain

    Medical schools across the country are just beginning to recognize the
    importance of educating doctors about pain management, said Dr.
    Deborah Danoff, associate vice president of the division of medical
    education for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    The Bush administration is so concerned about the education gap that
    it has called for meetings with medical groups across the country to
    advise doctors of the growing problem.

    "There has been an increase in the use of synthetic analgesics and
    opioids that provide an enormous help to people in pain, but there has
    not been a corresponding effort at educating physicians," said John
    Walters, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

    Among the early advocates for such training was Dr. Mark Wallace,
    associate clinical professor of anesthesiology and a program director
    for the UCSD School of Medicine's Center for Pain and Palliative Medicine.

    "Until the last 10 years, medical schools taught doctors to diagnose
    and treat problems," Wallace said. "Then we started to realize that
    patient suffering also required the attention of doctors."

    Although most medical schools don't require pain-management courses,
    they are popular electives. The one Wallace teaches is in such demand
    that a lottery determines which students get into the course.

    Since 2002, California has required that doctors obtain training in
    pain management. By 2006, all doctors in the state must prove they
    have taken a continuing education course in pain management before
    their licenses can be renewed.

    A Doctor's Wife

    It's not known what warnings Dr. James Grisolia's 52-year-old wife,
    Linda, got regarding the powerful drugs prescribed by her husband and
    other doctors.

    Linda Grisolia, a Chula Vista resident who had epilepsy and suffered
    from chronic pain after a fall several years ago, died in October of
    an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, including some
    prescribed by her husband, according to a report on file at the
    Medical Examiner's Office.

    James Grisolia, who is chair of medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital,
    disputes the report, saying he believes his wife died of an epileptic

    "There is a substantial disagreement between me and the medical
    examiner," Grisolia said. "I think it was a missed call on their part."

    Linda Grisolia had over-medicated accidentally at least once in the
    past, and in the days before her death she was using so much morphine
    that she was hallucinating, the report said.

    The autopsy report attributes Linda Grisolia's death "to the combined
    effects of the multiple sedating prescription medications."

    The autopsy showed seven prescription drugs in Linda Grisolia's
    system, including elevated levels of the pain-killers morphine and


    By the time San Bernardino law enforcement and state medical
    authorities opened an investigation into Dr. Thomas Michael Barrett's
    practice, documents filed in administrative law court allege the
    57-year-old doctor had:

    Prescribed thousands of pills for a man he knew had been illegally
    reselling the drugs for nearly a year.

    Scheduled appointments so close together that he once booked 15
    patients in 30 minutes.

    Prescribed adult doses of morphine for a 6-year-old boy healing from a
    dog bite when ordinary Tylenol would have worked.

    Prescribed 550 tablets of morphine in a seven-day period for a woman
    already taking five other pain medications.

    At one point during the investigation, an undercover deputy sheriff
    posed as a patient, claiming he felt intense pain in his left shoulder.

    Barrett listened to the deputy's chest with a stethoscope and pressed
    on his right shoulder but not his left, according to the accusation.

    "Following an examination that lasted 56 seconds and involved no
    questions about pain," the accusation stated Barrett wrote the deputy
    a prescription for 150 tablets of OxyContin and 90 tablets of morphine.

    Barrett, who has been licensed in California since 1975, did not
    respond to requests for an interview. Last year, he was suspended from
    practicing medicine for a year, placed on 10 years' probation and
    ordered to take refresher courses on prescribing, record keeping,
    ethics and clinical training.

    Shared Responsibility

    Dr. Bob Wailes, an Encinitas pain-management specialist, said doctors
    are in a tight spot when it comes to prescribing addictive drugs. They
    have to treat the pain, but they also have to prevent addiction.

    "The competing forces are to balance good care with compassion and
    caution," Wailes said.

    Wailes thinks most doctors are adept at spotting abuse problems in
    their patients, though some miss the warning signs.

    Tiffany Aylesworth thinks her mother, Monique Adams, was one of those
    whose addiction slipped past her doctors. Adams, who lived in Vista,
    became addicted to painkillers after a car accident and took nearly a
    dozen types of drugs each day.

    "I tried for years and years to get her doctors and the pharmacists to
    see what was happening," Aylesworth said in a brief interview. "I
    couldn't get anybody to listen."

    On May 9, 2002, Adams, 47, went to bed about 8 p.m. complaining of
    moderate back pain and tooth pain. She was found dead on the floor of
    her bedroom the next day, still in her nightshirt and with the
    television humming.

    Aylesworth said doctors and pharmacists seemed to think her mother
    couldn't possibly be addicted.

    "Well she was," Aylesworth said. "And they didn't care."

    The duty of making sure prescription drugs don't dominate patients'
    lives or destroy them has to be shared, said Dr. Mark Chenven,
    with friends," Chenven said.

    "Doctors have a responsibility to maintain an awareness of the
    possibility their patients may be using their medication
    inappropriately. But it is up to the patient to use the medications in
    the fashion they are prescribed."

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  1. godzcamera
    wow wish swim could find a doctor like that! thanks
  2. TinkB

    Swim wholeheartedly agrees with this statement. And yes,the stories told are horrific. But in swim's opinion it's incidents like the ones described that many times keep doctors from prescribing pain meds that are actually needed by a patient for fear of law suits or worse. It's idiots like like these that make it difficult for actual chronic pain sufferers to obtain the meds they need.
  3. stoneinfocus
    And still no aticles on surffering of the poor and the 99% of docs underprescribing.(maybe as a cause to these opinons floating around in, and gov-seats winning articles, are they paid off?)

    Wow, the press media always seems to sink one step deeper in respect, work and duty on well-founded researched articles, than one think it could be possible.
  4. godzcamera
    swim thinks tink and stone both make great arguments on one hand tink is right one bad swim messes it up for all swims! yet stone is correct to all the good swims never make it any better for the rest of the swims. there could be 1 million swims who do great on pain meds yet leave it up to one and the million has no chance aginst the one wrong swim. we all want good yet dwell on the bad.
  5. stoneinfocus
    ture, why not make an report on a chron. pain guy, showing himn crawling on the floor after working a bit, and hardly making it to a doc once a week, then show the mostly disrespectful treatment and denials of pain meds, that´d really cut it and the consequences for this sufferer?

    I think it´d be quite intersting, but would imply a renewal of current practicesd and thinking and a bad feeling to the readers (probably) so here we go again with chasing and killing the "jew", ´cause he´s all wrong and we´re the good ones, the heroic.

    that´s so easy and sells.
  6. beentheredonethatagain
    It took almost an act of congress before I was able to even get a referral to see a pain management doctor, in order to get an appointment with them your primary care physician must order it. I only have heard of people getting meds. like hydrocodone and the like from the general practitioners.
  7. thewomaninagreenhat
    As one who suffers from chronic pain, this sort of thing really gets my goat. It is extremely difficult to get my doctor to help me with my pain. He lets me have 200 mg of tramadol per day, and I need double that. Some days all I can do is cry and hope that I can fall asleep for awhile, just to not hurt for a bit.

    I dont even want or ask for a narcotic, but still he wont let me have more tramadol than that. Its because of doctors like the ones above, and it sucks.
  8. beentheredonethatagain
    I am speaking from expierence when I suggest that you do what I did, call your health insurance provider, if you don't have one then call the AMA , American Medical Association, and file a complaint on this doctor. The physicians are sworn to help and never harm patients, they must be held accountable for their treatments or lack there of. It works at least for me it did , I too have chronic pain and I wasnt getting any help from my doctor until I made a formal complaint, he woke up then.
  9. thewomaninagreenhat
    Im pretty sure that I would be in worse shape if I were to complain about him. I do not have insurance, and I NEED a doctor. I tried several doctors before this one, and he is the only person that would agree to see me without insurance. I was weeks away from very likely dying from cancer when he agreed to see me. Even knowing how serious the problem was, no other doctor would. I still need my doctor for checkups, and if I complain then that would be a problem.

    A number of months ago I had a very large blood clot in my leg. It felt like a bad leg cramp in my calf for 2 weeks. So bad that I couldnt walk. I was stuck in bed for nearly 2 months, and told that if I moved it too much, then the clot could dislodge and go to my lungs or brain. The pain was the worst I have ever had, and that includes 2 c-section childbirths plus the cancer surgery. Even then I had trouble getting adequate pain relief from him.

    It would be easy enough to buy illegal narcotics, but what I really want is just a dose of tramadol that will ease the pain. I guess I should just be lucky that I get any at all.
  10. Panthers007
    We have a name on the streets for doctors here in the USA that, for a price, will prescribe you whatever your heart (or something) desires: Croakers.

    Just plunk down $50 or so - and off you go with your prescription. One of those damned near killed my girlfriend.
  11. godzcamera
    are you serious swim would assume you would have to know the reputation of the croker b/c it would seem quite odd seeing a doctor and just putting $50 bucks on the exam table. i belive it thought money talks.
  12. beentheredonethatagain
    what I think oo7 is trying to say is for the price of a office visit , usually around $50 , you get the script, he gets the cash for a office call.
  13. oathrocks

    very true. SWIM has been seeing one for the past year or so. SWIM has never had any xrays-ams anything only vitals-wieght blood pressure-temp that is all. SWIM first visit got 120 norco next visti 20mg Oxy and from there what ever he asked for by name. SWIM has got 2 sch. 2rxs and the ocasional what ever he wants for the last 6 months and goes when ever wants. SWIM does not need to wait 25-30 days he has gone in once a week for a month before usually he waits about 2 weeks. SWIM pays $55 a visit cash they do exepct isrurnace but with cash you can come whene ver you want once they get to know you, with inurance u have to wait 30 days so they get paid again. When SWIM first went there was him and his a couple othere but mostly people that were thre for "legimat" reaons. Now they place is filled all the time junkieswiht visabal track marks, and well you cen tell people are waiting for pills. SWIM knows that his docs office will not be lasting for much longer at this rate any time He goes He expects it to pad locked or somehting. SWIM has been approche there be people asking what he gets and want to trade or sell-buy ect..SWIM has even told the doc that a person in the waiting rooma asked, not wanted a good thing to get blown by an itdiot...and as far as SWIM knows he just warned since SWIM seen him there a couple days ago. SWIM gets 150 80 Oxycontin, and 180 30mg Roxicodone and every now and then Dysoxn or Adderall, Valium or Xanax and he will get usually 150 of those when wanted. SWIM told his cousin there first visit last thursday no records-xrays ect nothing, he was rx 60 Opana 40 ER , and 35 30mg Roxicodone...swim cousin was asked to come back in 10 days he came back in 7 days and was rx 90 80mg Oxycontin, and 120 10/325 Pecs second visit. SWIM knows of 4 of these around his area and keeps then to his self but they are evry easy to find around here!!
  14. godzcamera
    well swim thinks you are one lucky person for sure. swim wishes that he could find a doc like that. how does a swim go about finding doc's like that. swim does not want oxys or anything very explosive just not to be treated like scum and beable to get relief. ya know.
  15. Panthers007
    That croaker was got by the DEA. Thay did him like Al Cappone. Think he reported his income? Nope! They busted him for tax-evasion.
  16. beentheredonethatagain
    exactly no articles on those who suffer from pain or other untreated medical conditions due to the physicians underprescribing medicines, either because they think everyone is a drug seeker, or they just dont want to bother with the added paper work.
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