A physician in California found out the hard way that knowing her patients’ pain management habits is critical information. Dr. Hsiu-Ying frequently prescribed painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin to her patients. She did not, however, spend enough time determining whether those same patients had drug-seeking behavior or other drug addictions. More than a dozen of her patients died during an epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Dr. Hsiu-Ying was charged, and convicted, of three murders related to the death of her patients. Prosecutors believe evidence at trial demonstrated that the doctor ignored warning signs that her patients were really abusing the painkillers and, perhaps, did not need them for any therapeutic benefit.
The Texas Medical Board actively investigates and prosecutes physicians for similar pain medicine prescribing. Depending upon the volume of the physician’s prescribing habits, the Drug Enforcement Agency, in conjunction with local prosecutors, may be involved in undercover stings. Physicians in Texas must also be aware of the need to secure a pain management clinic certificate. A pain management clinic is a publicly or privately owned facility for which a majority of patients are issued on a monthly basis a prescription for opioids, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or carisoprodol, but not including suboxone.
Knowing your patients’ pain management habits may allow a physician to identify certain self-destructive behaviors. It will also help the physician to limit patient risks from drug interactions.