Imagine this: You’re a doctor with a thriving practice and you would never, ever pass out painkillers to a patient without a good reason. You have a solid reputation as a compassionate physician, however, so patients in pain have sought you out — hoping for relief. You carefully screen them all, make sure that they have a real need for pain relief and watch for signs of addiction. If you see signs of addiction, you wean patients off opioids and look for alternatives.
Then, one day, you find the Medical Board of California knocking on your practice door (probably with a warrant), accusing you of prescribing opioid drugs recklessly — leading patients to addiction and even death. Those patients were long out of your care and had moved on from your practice possibly years before — but the Medical Board says that you’re the doctor that’s responsible for putting them on the road to their addiction.
Think it’s preposterous?
So does the California Health Care Foundation and numerous medical associations and private physicians alike — but it’s happening.
The four-year-old “Death Certificate Project” has resulted in investigations into the practices of around 450 different physicians and 72 nurse practitioners, osteopaths and physician’s assistants. At least 23 physicians have been formally accused of negligent prescribing.
Doctors and their advocacy groups have likened the Project to a witch hunt or an inquisition of sorts — and they say it’s adversely affecting their ability to care for patients who are legitimately in pain. After all, you simply cannot predict with absolute certainty, whether a patient will develop an addiction to painkillers — even those prescribed appropriately.
If your name ends up on a list of medical professionals being investigated, make no mistake about it: Your license to practice is at risk. It’s time to seek professional help who understands the administrative law process that is used by the Medical Board in order to preserve your livelihood.