Newspapers Examine Issues Related to Drug Addiction
American Health Line highlights three feature articles related to drug addiction published on Monday and Tuesday. Summaries of the articles appear below.
Los Angeles Times: The Times on Monday profiled Dr. William Hurwitz, a Virginia physician who faces federal charges of improperly prescribing opiate-based pain medications and is currently incarcerated pending bail of $2 million. While prosecutors "depict [Hurwitz] as a corrupt and ruthless profiteer," many doctors and academics regard him as a "pioneer in pain treatment," the Times reports. According to the Times, the case highlights the "deepening rift between law enforcement and the medical community over the use of opioids in modern pain treatment." Investigators and prosecutors point out that the abuse of prescription opiates has been increasing 27% per year and say that physicians violate the law if they prescribe such medications to patients whose doctors "should reasonably know" they are abusing the drugs, the Times reports. However, physicians groups and health organizations contend that patients with chronic, long-term pain need to receive opiates to maintain productive lives. A "broad range of experts," including pain specialists and some law enforcement officials, acknowledge that the legal action is "causing widespread fear among doctors that they cannot prescribe opioid painkillers ... without risking prosecution," according to the Times (Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, 10/20).
New York Times: The Times examines the failure of many physicians to diagnose drug or alcohol addictions, which affect 20% of U.S. residents at some point in their lifetimes and cost billions of dollars each year to treat. Ninety percent of primary care physicians fail to diagnose drug addictions in patients who display symptoms of the problem, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Researchers attributed the results of the study to inadequate instruction on drug addiction treatment for medical students, physician "frustration" with affected patients, a "common perception" among physicians that such treatment is ineffective and inadequate reimbursements from health insurers for such treatment, the Times reports. Officials at the center recommend increased formal instruction on drug addiction to help physicians properly diagnose and treat patients with the problem; expansion of Medicare, Medicaid and private health coverage for drug addiction treatment; and efforts to make physicians liable for failure to diagnose drug addiction and to encourage affected patients to seek treatment (Markel, New York Times, 10/21).
- Washington Post: The Post on Tuesday examined the difficulties in treatment for individuals with prescription pain medication addictions. Such addictions tend "to be more difficult than treating an addiction to alcohol, cocaine or nicotine" because withdrawal is "riskier and more unpleasant," and "relapse is the rule rather than the exception," the Post reports. In addition, individuals with prescription pain medication addictions in many cases convince themselves that they do not have a problem because the treatments are legal and prescribed by physicians (Boodman, Washington Post, 10/21).