Doctors issuing mass opioid prescriptions in New Jersey are facing a legal crackdown to combat rampant heroin addiction fueled by painkillers.
A record number of doctors in the state were sanctioned in 2016 over their irresponsible prescribing habits, resulting in long-term suspensions, permanent revocation of medical licenses and in some cases criminal charges. George Beecher, a doctor in Somerset County, was found cashing in on the opioid epidemic with his associates by writing scripts for large quantities of oxycodone, a highly addictive painkiller, to patients he never met or evaluated, reports Fox News.
In total, Beecher wrote prescriptions for roughly 60,000 tablets of oxycodone to more than 24 patients he never came into contact with. David Delmonaco, the father of a 21-year-old U.S. Army officer who committed suicide after getting addicted to oxycodone through Beecher, said the doctor “did it all for money.” The state sanctioned another 30 doctors during 2016 for failing to follow prescribing guidelines or deliberately violating medical standards for profit.
“He was ruthless, he made my son into an addict,” Delmonaco told Fox News. “My son started taking it, he was injured in the military, he had pain, and he quickly got addicted. This doctor just kept writing prescriptions, the highest dosage.”
GOP Gov. Chris Christie declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis Jan. 17 in New Jersey, which has a death rate from heroin higher than the national average. There are roughly 128,000 heroin addicts in the state and health experts fear that number is likely growing. Heroin deaths spiked 22 percent between 2014 and 2015 and the state doubled the national drug overdose death rate with 1,600 fatalities in 2015.
The majority of heroin addicts in the state began with a legal prescription for painkillers, before transitioning after building high tolerances making the pills too expensive.
“When four out of five new heroin users are getting their start by abusing prescription drugs, you have to attack the problem at ground zero – in irresponsibly run doctors’ offices,” New Jersey Attorney General Porrino said in a statement. “Physicians who grant easy access to the drugs that are turning New Jersey residents into addicts can be every bit as dangerous as street-corner dealers. Purging the medical community of over-prescribers is as important to our cause as busting heroin rings and locking up drug kingpins.”
Beecher currently has a suspended license pending the outcome of criminal charges over the overdose death of an associate’s adult son. He is charged with first degree strict liability for a drug induced death and several second degree counts for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Beecher is expected to appear in court in April.
More Americans are taking prescription painkillers than ever before, despite record heroin abuse and rising overdose death rates connected to opioids. A recent survey from Truven Health Analytics and NPR reveals more than half of the U.S. population reports receiving a prescription for opioids at least once from their doctor, a 7 percent increase since 2011.
Only 19 percent of respondents, however, received the painkillers for chronic pain. Seventy-four percent of respondents said doctors doled out prescription narcotics for acute pain, like after a procedure to remove wisdom teeth. Medical professionals say doctors need to start by prescribing the least potent and least addictive pain treatment option, and then cautiously go from there.
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.
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