Most of the fatal drug overdoses in Allen County last year involved prescription drugs, rather than traditional street drugs, the county's top public-health official said Wednesday in a public appeal to support legislation that would make it easier to investigate businesses that may be doling out too many painkillers.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, commissioner of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, appeared with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller in a news conference at Citizens Square. In general, they called attention to the increasing incidence of prescription-drug addiction and misuse. Specifically, they highlighted Indiana Senate Bill 246, which would allow the state's Medical Licensing Board to authorize immediate inspections by the Attorney General's office to investigate possible patterns of overprescribing. Zoeller described it as an “administrative warrant” that the licensing board could issue as part of its regulatory function.
The bill also would prohibit anyone other than a physician or a hospital from owning a pain-management clinic. SB 246 was written by state Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville. Grooms and McMahan are among 70 members of the state's task force on prescription drugs.
Zoeller cited the ongoing licensing case against Fort Wayne physician Dr. William Hedrick, who owns and operates the Centers for Pain Relief, as an example of the kind of case that could be pursued more quickly and effectively if SB 246 becomes law.
“In Allen County alone, there were 29 deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2011. Of those, 25 involved prescription drugs of some kind,” McMahan said. She said information on prescription-drug addiction is too sketchy to determine whether legitimate medical treatment or recreational drug use is responsible for a greater share of addiction.
“I don't think we have a handle on that, because we don't know who's taking what,” McMahan said.
Beyond legal changes, McMahan said that Americans need to accept some discomfort as a part of responsible pain management so that a patient doesn't expect painkillers when, for example, he has a sore throat.
“We need cultural change so the expectations of patients when they come to the physician are more reasonable,” she said.
The next action on SB 246 is scheduled for Feb. 13, when it is to be heard in the Senate Committee on Health and Provider Services.