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Prescription deaths: Lawmaker wants cases reported to Medical Board

November 12, 2012 |  5:05 pm

The chairman of a state Senate committee that oversees the Medical Board said Monday he would introduce a bill requiring coroners to report all prescription drug deaths to the agency — a move aimed at helping authorities identify doctors whose prescribing practices may be harming patients.

Sen. Curren D. Price Jr., responding to a Times' report that authorities have failed to recognize how often people overdose on medications prescribed by their doctors, said the medical board needed coroners reports to improve oversight of potentially dangerous practices.

“There appears to be a disconnect between coroners and the Medical Board,” Price (D-Los Angeles), said in an interview. “Hopefully legislation will tighten that up and provide the kind of accountability we all expect.”

Full coverage: Legal drugs, deadly outcomes

The Times investigation published Sunday found that in nearly half of the accidental deaths from prescription drugs in four Southern California counties, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one drug that caused or contributed to the death.

The investigation identified 3,733 deaths that involved prescription drugs in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties from 2006 through 2011. In 1,762 of those cases — 47% — drugs for which the deceased had a prescription were the sole cause or a contributing cause of death.

The Times found that prescription drug deaths often involved multiple drugs, sometimes prescribed by more than one doctor. In some cases, the deceased also mixed prescribed drugs with illegal drugs, alcohol or both.

The paper identified 71 Southern California physicians who prescribed drugs to three or more patients who later fatally overdosed. The doctors were primarily pain specialists, general practitioners and psychiatrists.

Price said that although there may be legitimate reasons for a doctor's prescriptions being linked to a death, “it’s cause for some further review.”

“I think a red flag goes up any time you have one [doctor] involved in several deaths,” he said. “And I think an investigation is not only warranted but called upon by the public.”

RELATED:

Full coverage: Dying for relief

INTERACTIVE: Risk factors in prescription deaths

Helped or hooked? Doctors talk about treating patients

-- Scott Glover and Lisa Girion

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