Federal prosecutors in Atlanta have put about 30 doctors on notice that they’ve been identified for prescribing opioids in significantly greater quantities or doses than their peers.
The doctors, who were not publicly identified but work in the metro and North Georgia area, were notified by letter. Some also were found to have prescribed opioids to patients who may have a high risk of abuse, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday.
“Medical professionals have an obligation to the safety and well-being of their patients,” U.S. Attorney BJay Pak said in a statement. “Many opioid prescribers may not realize that they are over-prescribing opioids. We aim to make these medical prescribers — who are outliers — aware of their atypical practices, so that they can make informed decisions about whether their opioid prescriptions are for a legitimate medical purpose.”
The letters are part of an initiative by the U.S. Department of Justice to reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third over the next three years. The Department of Justice has not determined if the 30 doctors who were put on notice have broken the law, but federal authorities will continue to monitor prescribing habits, Pak said.
In the letters, prosecutors provided the doctors with specific information about their prescription patterns. The doctors were also given guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
Neil Campbell, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, applauded the move.
“This is a really good thing,” she said. “There’s been such an abuse of prescriptions and it’s hurt a lot of people. Most doctors don’t want to give more painkillers than they need to, but unfortunately that’s not the case with everyone.”
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At the same time, the public needs to realize that there are “good doctors out there who must prescribe high levels of painkillers for people with real chronic pain,” Campbell said. “Their numbers might look out of whack but, on balance, what they are doing is necessary for their patients.”
Last year, federal prosecutors obtained an indictment against former metro area medical examiner Joe Burton for prescribing opioids in exchange for sexual favors. Over a two-year period, beginning in July 2015, Burton wrote more than 1,500 prescriptions for about 350 different people for controlled substances, including opioid painkillers, prosecutors said.
The bulk of the prescriptions were given to women in return for sex. The nationally known, 73-year-old pathologist pleaded guilty and was sentenced in August to eight years in prison.
In its statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that 140 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day and the epidemic was created, in part, by widespread over-prescriptions.