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L.A. Times Probes Role of Doctors in Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths

November 15, 2012 10:39:21 am

In an investigation of prescription drug deaths, the Los Angeles Times says some of the overdoses had one thing in common: many were prescribed by a small cadre of doctors. For example, prescription bottles found at the scene of at least 11 of deaths were prescribed by Dr. Van H. Vu, a pain specialist in Huntington Beach. He declined to comment on individual cases, citing confidentiality laws, but he said he treats many "very, very difficult patients" whose chronic pain is sometimes complicated by substance abuse and depression, anxiety or other mental illness.

Prescription drug overdoses now claim more lives than heroin and cocaine combined, fueling a doubling of drug-related deaths in the United States over the last decade. Health and law enforcement officials have focused on how OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and other potent pain and anxiety medications are obtained illegally, such as through pharmacy robberies or when teenagers raid their parents' medicine cabinets. But authorities have failed to recognize how often people overdose on medications prescribed for them by their doctors. The Times 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. Reporters identified a total of 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in those counties. A small number of doctors was associated with a disproportionate number of those fatal overdoses.

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