Lawmakers, Advocates React to KSTP Investigation that Found Doctors are Breaking Law

May 16, 2018 05:19 AM

Lawmakers and advocates are responding to a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation that found thousands of doctors are breaking the law in Minnesota.

The report found more than 5,000 doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other medical professionals failed to sign up for the state's Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). 

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RELATED: Thousands of Minn. Doctors Break Law by Not Signing Up for Prescription Monitoring Program

"It's kind of depressing," said Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, who helped draft the bipartisan legislation with Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar.

The monitoring program is designed to identify patients who see multiple doctors in order to obtain a large amount of addictive painkillers.

Medical professionals registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who have the ability to prescribe narcotics were required to sign up for the program by last summer. 

"The bill should not be a waste of our time," Baker said. "The bill was supposed to enact something to happen,"

RELATED: 'It's Shameful': Dayton Responds to KSTP Investigation Finding Thousands of Minn. Doctors are Breaking Law

Both lawmakers lost children to the opioid epidemic, which claims hundreds of lives in Minnesota every year. Preliminary numbers released this week by the Minnesota Department of Health show that in 2017, someone overdosed and died on painkillers every other day in the state.

Yet, the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation found state regulators are doing little to enforce the law or bring doctors into compliance.

The Board of Medical Practice does not have the capacity to monitor which doctors have signed up for the monitoring program, according to Executive Director Ruth Martinez.

However, the board has access to the same state and federal records obtained and analyzed by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

"I would make the argument that we are not on a fishing expedition," Martinez said.

Opioids in Minnesota

She acknowledged that doctors can still renew their license even when they are violating the law.

Baker said that was not supposed to happen. 

"You aren't going to get your license if you don't sign up… that's what was told to us by the board of medical practice," Baker said.

During a panel discussion hosted by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Baker and Eaton vowed to put more teeth into the law if doctors are not forced into compliance.

Eaton said she is willing to go as far as requiring that doctors not only sign up for the program, but use it - a mandate doctors and regulators have resisted in the past.

Dr. Marc Myer, a medical director at Hazelden Betty Ford who specializes in addiction treatment, said doctors may not want to use the program because it is too time consuming.

"I think it goes back to a lack of education," he said. "It's really difficult to find the time to gather that kind of data. And it can also put a wrench in your day if you do have the data because maybe you're not clear when addiction is present."

Dr. Myer, who at one point lost his medical license because of his own addiction to painkillers, now uses the program regularly to monitor patients.

Other doctors have complained the program is too cumbersome.

"Having 4,000, 5,000 doctors not doing it because it's cumbersome is not an excuse," said Shelly Elkington, who lost her daughter to an overdose in August 2015.

"One of her last words were, 'It's not my fault,' and it wasn't," she said. "Those last words still ring in my head."

Elkington now advocates for tougher laws and more resources to fight the epidemic. 

"I get very frustrated when I hear that sometimes it takes too long," she said. "We are without our children. I don't care if it takes 10 minutes – do it!"

Credits

Ryan Raiche

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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