Tonawanda News

Local News

May 18, 2013

Down the rabbit hole

(Continued)

It was the diversion squad, he said, that played a lead role in the arrest of North Tonawanda's Dr. Matthew Bennett. The family care physician was arrested after an investigation found that the 46-year-old doctor did not examine many of his patients when prescribing pills and would often trade items at his home such as toiletries and even a gas grill for opiate-based prescription medications including Roxicodone, Oxymorphone and Xanax.

"They're the busiest group in the office," he said.

'Prescribed into it'

Just as the perfect storm was brewing, America's medical professionals were also being taught to more aggressively treat pain though opioid medication, Kasprzyk said. 

In 1995, the president of the American Pain Society, Dr. James Campbell, first suggested that pain should be better quantified and treated.

Just a few years later, in 2001, new standards were released by The Joint Commission —  a not-for-profit body that accredits and certifies more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs — based on the popular new mandate that pain should be treated "as the 5th vital sign."

According to an unrelated CDC report issued this year, the number of legitimately filled prescriptions for painkillers since that time has risen in lockstep with overdose trends. 

The number of painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices was four times larger in 2010 than in 1999, before the new guidelines were issued. Similarly, opioid overdose deaths rose from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010 — a 400 percent increase.

The American Medical Association, in response to a News inquiry into the reasons for abuse, outlined a platform including physician education, public awareness, better storage and disposal of such drugs and increased access to what Michael Israel needed so badly — addiction treatment and recovery programs.

But the AMA, along with many in the medical community, also warn against discouraging physicians from prescribing pain medication when it's needed most.

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