Arizona medical boards can take years to penalize doctors who overprescribe
PHOENIX – One patient, a 29-year-old woman, was prescribed a dangerous cocktail of anti-anxiety drugs and opioids by her Fort Mohave doctor after a car accident. Another, this time a 61-year-old man with back pain, was given a potentially fatal dose of painkillers, including fentanyl, an opiate 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin.
Nearly five years after his first documented instance of overprescribing, the doctor’s medical license was suspended in August by the Arizona Medical Board. Three months later in November, authorities arrested him in Wyoming for allegedly prescribing an illegal amount of opioids to residents of five states, according to a complaint filed with the Wyoming’s U.S. District Attorney’s Office.
In Yuma, a doctor was forced to surrender his license last year after prescribing large quantities of controlled substances, including narcotic pain and anti-anxiety medications to a patient who died of drug and alcohol toxicity. The prescribing “continued until her death," records show.
Although the number of doctors and physician assistants sanctioned for overprescribing opiates – just 250 during the past 16 years – is small compared to the more than 19,000 currently licensed to prescribe controlled substances, the boards’ disciplinary records detail more than 1,000 instances of overprescribing, sometimes after the doctor received multiple reprimands. In the most egregious cases, doctors prescribe opiates like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid and others en masse for profit, often without performing any medical exams.
It can take years for a physician to be penalized and revocations are rare, according to a Cronkite News examination of hundreds of disciplinary records from the Arizona Medical Board, Arizona Board of Physician Assistants and the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners. In the meantime, many of these physicians continue to practice.