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Panel probes ‘doctor shopping’

A state panel has sent more than 2,500 letters to medical professionals across West Virginia, warning that their patients could be “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs.

A state Board of Pharmacy “review committee” recently distributed the notices, after the panel identified 176 people who have received pain-pill prescriptions from 13 or more doctors over the past 12 months.

One West Virginia man picked up such prescriptions from 34 separate doctors during the past year.

In the letters, the panel urges doctors to check a multi-state electronic database — called the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program —to see whether their patients have secured prescriptions for controlled substances from other medical professionals.

“Our goal is to reduce the ‘doctor shoppers,’ “said Mike Goff, an administrator at the state pharmacy board. “A lot of these people are getting through the cracks because not everybody is using the monitoring program regularly.”

The committee also has notified law enforcement agencies about dozens of people who visited an excessive number of doctors who wrote prescriptions for pain pills, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. State law prohibits the panel from releasing the names of the patients and doctors, Goff said.

“These people are seeing doctors and pharmacists all over the place,” said Goff, who oversees the monitoring program, which tracks the proliferation of controlled substances. “These are individuals who try to snow people.”

This year, the pharmacy board is playing a more active role in trying to curb West Virginia’s problem with prescription drugs. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

West Virginia pharmacies fill more than 5 million prescriptions for controlled substances - mostly narcotics - each year.

All West Virginia medical professionals who write prescriptions must register their names with the Controlled Substance Monitoring Program.

The pharmacy board upgraded the program last July, after state lawmakers passed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s sweeping substance abuse bill that aimed to reduce West Virginia’s prescription painkiller epidemic.

Tomblin’s bill established committees that have reviewed hundreds of patient records and spotlighted people who go to multiple doctors for powerful narcotics.

According to a recent report, 40 people received prescriptions from 18 or more different medical providers, and 262 individuals got prescriptions from a dozen or more doctors during the past year.

“We’re encouraging the use of the monitoring program because we believe that the more people who use it the less folks will be able to get these excessive prescriptions,” Goff said. “If the prescribers, as well as the pharmacists who fill the prescriptions ... if everyone looked at the monitoring program, it would be really tough for a person to go in and get multiple, overlapping prescriptions.”

Nearly 8,000 people picked up pain-pill prescriptions from six or more different physicians, which amounted to more than 50,000 office visits, according to the report.

“We don’t have the staff to send out 50,000 letters,” Goff said.

Law enforcement officers don’t automatically arrest people who the panel “red flags” for visiting numerous doctors and getting prescriptions for painkillers, Goff said.

The database reports show patients’ and doctors’ names, and the pharmacy that filled the prescription.

“You can’t, just because it looks bad, go in and arrest someone,” Goff said. “[Police] will talk to the doctors and see whether there was a legitimate reason why a guy saw three different doctors in a week and got all these prescriptions for controlled substances. They’ll do an in-depth investigation.”

Goff said “doctor shoppers” also frequent hospital emergency rooms.

“A lot of times staff there doesn’t have time to check the monitoring program, if they’re really busy,” he said.

The pharmacy board’s panel plans to review controlled-substance prescriptions at least every six months, Goff said. The committee also will examine drug-related deaths.

“We just started doing this,” he said. “After a year or so, we hope to see some results. If everyone checked the monitoring program, we believe it would cause a reduction in the numbers.”

Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.

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