Last year a local pain management physician was arrested by DEA's Tactical Diversion Squad and charged with not only improperly prescribing drugs, but also money laundering, conspiracy and assisting in a criminal syndicate. Attention was focused on him partly because he had patients from several states.
It’s not uncommon for pain management specialists, or any medical specialist to have a large practice with patients form a wide geographical area. So few doctors are willing to treat pain today, any physician willing to do pain management ends up with not only the pain patients from their local area, but usually from hundreds of miles away.
When DEA arrests a pain management physician, or the state medical board suspends a pain physician’s medical license, the media concentrates on the charges filed against the doctor, when the story should be about what happens to the physician’s patients.
When a pain management specialist is arrested by DEA, their DEA registration is suspended, and their practice is shut down. Patients end up abandoned, stigmatized, and neglected by the whole medical community, because no other physician wants to be associated with doctor so-and-so patients.
I know because I was one of these patients. I can’t tell you how many doctors told me, "I can’t give you pain medication because I’ll lose my medical license if I do."
Medical boards tell us that patient abandonment is a serious charge against a physician, and can lead to malpractice law suits. Patient abandonment is defined as the termination of the professional relationship between the physician and the patient at an unreasonable time or without affording the patient the opportunity to find a new physician.
While there are no laws related to patient abandonment in Arizona, the American Medical Association has some guidance for physicians on how to close a medical practice without abandoning patients. Physicians are told to notify patients well in advance to ensure continuity of care, and send a letter to each active patient at least 3 months prior to closure. Avoiding abandonment complaints can be avoided by notifying patients of the physician’s intent to terminate their care in writing, and give the patient sufficient time to arrange for care by another physician.
Yet state medical boards that are supposedly run by physicians create situations themselves where hundreds of patients are abandoned by their actions when a pain management practice is closed. It time state medical boards consider continuity of care and patient abandonment when shut down a pain management practice.
Investigations into a pain management physicians practice go on for months or years, all the time allowing the physician to prescribe medications to their patients. So what would be the harm in allowing the physician to write pain patients at least a 30 day supply of medication to allow them time to find a new pain management specialist?
If shutting down the practice to protect patients was the priority, they would shut the practice down as soon as they have evidence of wrong doing rather than allow the physician to continue practicing for months. Who’s protecting the hundreds of patients abandoned by the actions of DEA or the state medical board it’s self.
Pain management specialists are often charged with murder when a patient overdoses from taking medications they prescribe. So why don’t we hold DEA and state medical boards responsible when they create a situation where patients are abandoned because of their actions, and commit suicide due to uncontrolled pain.