This week’s USA Today story about the problem of overprescribing serious narcotics and pain killers to seniors touched a nerve with Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project activists. According to the story, “hundreds of thousands of the nation’s seniors are misusing prescription drugs, including narcotic painkillers, anxiety medications and other pharmaceuticals, for everything from joint pain to depression.” This problem leads to other problems, including rising overdose deaths, a spike in emergency room visits, and increasing admissions to addiction treatment programs.  While this issue is a big problem, CU Safe Patient activists felt that the public should recognize the lead role that doctors play in this mess.  One activist said, “Seniors overusing drugs?  Set my teeth on edge.  Doctors over-prescribing is more like it.”

Other activists felt similarly. “There seems to be a tendency to blame the drugs when in fact the blame lies squarely with the doctors,” another activist wrote. “Why should a patient need an advocate just to protect themselves from irresponsible prescribing? Maybe it is time to name the doctors who are writing the prescriptions that lead to harm and death of patients.” ProPublica’s Prescriber Checkup tool is a great way to search for doctors participating in Medicare’s prescription drug program and find out how many prescriptions each wrote and which drugs were prescribed. You can filter the drug list for certain categories: narcotics, antipsychotics and drugs labeled as potentially inappropriate for seniors by the American Geriatrics Society.

CA Safe Patient activist–Marian Hollingsworth–was interviewed for the story discussing her father’s downward spiral after receiving a cocktail of antipsychotic drugs for back pain. Marian’s father Keith Blair suffered mental decline, dehydration, infection, heart and kidney failure. He died less than two months after his mistreatment started. Since his death, Marian’s been speaking out about the risks of antipsychotic drugs and improving the patient consent process. She joined us in California earlier this month for the medical board meetings.