Pilots, college athletes, bus drivers and Disneyland cast members all are subjected to mandatory drug testing, but not the doctor performing open heart surgery, or a vasectomy. Not yet.
Substance abuse among doctor runs twice as high among doctors as the general population — 18% of physicians according to the California Medical Board. It’s no wonder, they can deal their own drugs.
It’s time for the change medical experts have been calling for a while. To make the case, this short, funny musical video “Pee In The Cup Part I” will be circulating around Disneyland on a mobile billboard this weekend, where the California Medical Association is convening.
The medical association’s confab in the magic kingdom is a perfect metaphor for the fantasyland the state’s medical establishment has been living in when it come to threats to patient today.
Drug overdose deaths, for example, are the leading cause of accidental death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nonetheless the golden state’s medical lobby worked hard in the legislature this year with the drug companies to keep the narcotics flowing without accountability.
Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a simple bill sending coroners’ reports about prescription drug overdose deaths to the state medical board because the doctors undermined it. Legislation mandating that doctors check the electronic prescription drug database, known as CURES, about a patients’ history before prescribing narcotics didn’t make it out of the California Senate because the medical association stopped it. A much-anticipated medical board overhaul, moving investigation of dangerous prescribers to the attorney general, never materialized because of the medical lobby’s opposition.
The only prognosis is that while today’s doctors are dealing with modern problems the medical association is still stuck in Walt Disney’s 1950s mentality that physicians should never be told what to do or have anyone looking over their shoulder, even if it’s a coroner.
Consider substance abuse among doctors. Nearly two in ten doctors abuse drugs and alcohol.
Yet the medical association has long sought to coddle physicians who abuse alcohol and drugs with a now discredited “diversion” program that withheld discipline and accountability for doctors if they went to rehab. After decades of abuse, and revolving doors, the California legislature finally pulled the plug.
Still, drunk and high doctors face little real discipline thanks to the slap-on-the-wrist physician discipline system the medical association has lobbied hard to maintain. Recently, a meth-using doctor convicted of drug dealing got his license back after one year. A schoolteacher, police officer or lawyer would lose their credential, badge or license.
As a dramatic Los Angeles Times investigation recently showed, prescription drug overdoses are becoming all too common, particularly among teenagers and young adults, as a cadre of “pain management” doctors gets rich over the corpses. What’s shocking is how the medical association fights in the face of such a scandal to protect the small minority of dangerous and dirty doctors that cause the vast majority of harm. Stunned families who lost loved ones need only look to Disneyland for some answers.
Drug makers ply top physicians with lavish gifts, exotic seminars and fancy lunches, buying not only prescriptions of their products but political clout. Is that why the white coats were the drug industry’s cover in the capitol to keep the drugs flowing without requiring physicians to check whether they are prescribing to addicts?
Kaiser Permanente, which reportedly pays a huge check to the California Medical Association each year for the dues of its thousands of doctors, wields great power over the association too, including employing its current president. Is that why CMA’s doctors are the main opponents of reforms Kaiser and health insurers don’t like, such as a 2014 ballot measure to regulate health insurance rates through the same successful regulation that now applies to auto insurance and home insurance rates? (A ballot measure I authored and my consumer group qualified for the ballot.)
One father, who lost two young children to an addict’s driving and reckless prescribing, has had enough. Bob Pack created the CURES electronic database only to have to fight the medical association for its funding and use. He is now circulating a ballot measureto require mandatory drug and alcohol testing for doctors, force doctors to check the CURES database before prescribing narcotics, and to index for inflation a 38 year old cap on malpractice victims’ recovery.
Nothing is likely to shake the House at Disney so much as having to pee in a cup. After this year’s legislative debacle, it’s high time someone like Pack bring the medical association back to earth.
Jamie Court is the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Consumer Watchdog and a backer of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act. Originally posted on the Huffington Post on October 10, 2013