Addicted Oklahoma: The Doctors

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As Fox 25 continues its series Addicted Oklahoma, about the prescription drug crisis in our state, we explore the roll doctors and pharmacists play. Since the prescription drug crisis exploded doctors have been on the front lines of the battle. The fight to end abuse and misuse starts with them.

"We've recognized that physicians are part of the problem, and we want to be part of the solution," said Dr. Rachel Franklin, Medical Director for OU Physicians Family Medicine.

Dr. Franklin says the wakeup call for physicians came in 2006-2007. More people were dying of accidental drug overdoses than in car accidents. Physicians discovered the overprescribing of opioid pain medication was the contributing factor.

"We're finding that people were taking these medications and there weren't a lot of good controls over how we were prescribing them," said Dr. Terrill Hulson from Mercy Clinic Edmond-Westbrook.

Doctors realized their entire philosophy of treating patients needed to change, so they adopted safeguards. Doctors are now required to use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program or PMP to check if patients have already been prescribed drugs, and by whom.

Dr. Hulson said," The prescription monitoring program is very, very, very good."

Mercy clinics also use special paper as a safeguard when printing prescriptions. If a patient were to try and copy the prescription, the special paper would print the word "void" all over the copy.

Doctors are also counseling patients on alternative pain management options, making it clear medication isn't always the answer.

"Maybe you need physical therapy. Maybe you need a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Maybe you need acupuncture. It's not always go ahead and give them an opioid," said Burl Beasley, Pharmacy Director for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority.

Beasley says SoonerCare has new safeguards in place too. The "No More Than Four" campaign was created. Pharmacists are not allowed to give patients more than four short acting narcotics per day.

"So about 300,000 pills a month are unavailable for diversion or distribution just by us limiting that," Beasley said.

Dr. Franklin says new curriculum aimed at tackling the prescription drug crisis is now being taught at OU. The next generation of physicians are being taught to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

"With each year that we graduate a new group of residents, we will have physicians going out into the community with a more balanced, thoughtful approach to managing chronic pain," Dr. Franklin said.

"If we can help the patient, and help them not get into trouble, that's the important part for us," Dr. Hulson said.

Another big initiative for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority and physicians is promoting prescriptions for naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of drug overdoses. There are very few pharmacies that carry naloxone in Oklahoma right now, but health officials are hopeful that will soon change.

Our state also has a lock-in program for patients prescribed opioids who may be at risk for abuse or overdose. Members are locked into one pharmacy or one prescriber for two years, making it more difficult to doctor shop or submit false prescriptions.

To watch the rest of our Addicted Oklahoma series, click here.

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