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Consumer group calls for laws to boost monitoring of doctors

Consumer Watchdog says reforms are needed to reduce the rising number of prescription drug overdoses and to rein in incompetent and corrupt physicians.

February 07, 2013|By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times

A consumer advocacy group Wednesday called for new laws to improve the state's monitoring of doctors who prescribe dangerous narcotics.

Consumer Watchdog said reforms were needed to reduce surging prescription drug overdoses and to rein in incompetent and corrupt physicians.

"We call upon you to convene hearings immediately to deal with this crisis and consider appropriate solutions," the Santa Monica-based group wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers.

The letter was prompted by Times reports that exposed the role of physicians' prescriptions in overdose deaths. The group called for measures that would require regulators to routinely search the state's vast database of narcotics prescriptions to identify and stop doctors who are prescribing recklessly.

The database, known as CURES, "should be data-mined," Jamie Court, the group's president, said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has called on states to use such databases to identify dangerous prescribing. At least six other states do so; California does not.

If lawmakers fail to take action, Court said, his organization was prepared to make a run at getting a slate of patient safety reforms on an upcoming ballot.

Prescription drugs — primarily narcotic painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone — cause or contribute to more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

In seeking to reduce the death toll, authorities have focused largely on how addicts and drug dealers obtain prescription narcotics illegally.Recent Times articles, however, showed that many overdoses involved patients who were prescribed the medications by their doctors.

Consumer Watchdog said "an overhaul of the doctor disciplinary system is in order."

The group also urged random drug testing for physicians, citing a Times report Saturday about the medical board agreeing to restore the license—after a one-year suspension--of Nathan Kuemmerle, a West Hollywood psychiatrist who pleaded guilty to felony drug dealing and admitted to using methamphetamine.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), the chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees the medical board, said all of the issues raised in the group's letter will be considered at a previously scheduled hearing March 11.

"Everything ought to be on the table," he said.

State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Senate oversight committee, said the consumer group's input was welcome and showed that "overdose deaths and overprescribing of drugs is something everyone realizes is a real public health issue now."

Gov. Brown "will closely consider any bills that reach his desk," said Chief Deputy Press Secretary Elizabeth Ashford Davis,

The California Medical Assn. said in a statement that it supported efforts to reduce drug overdoses but declined to address specific proposals.

lisa.girion@latimes.com

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