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Grieving parents picket med board

Calling the Florida Board of Medicine a “puppet” of the pharmaceutical industry, 15 protesters picketed today in front of a Tampa hotel where the board is meeting.

The sign-carriers – mostly parents who have lost young-adult children to overdoses – said the board has been slow and ineffective in dealing with doctors who overprescribe narcotics.

Meanwhile inside the hotel, the board took up an agenda that includes cases of alleged over-prescribing. Several members of the board said they were aware of the protest outside.

“I’m glad they’re here,” said Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, a board member. “They’re bringing attention to the issue.”

The pickets did not attend the Board meeting, which was open to the public. One of them, Maureen Kielian of Broward County, had asked on August 27 for an opportunity to make a presentation to the Board, but was turned down, a series of e-mails shows.

“By the time I received the request, it was too late to put them on the agenda,” Executive Director Joy Tootle told Health News Florida today.

Most of the cases to be heard today and Saturday by the board, including those involving over-prescribing, come with a recommended settlement that has been negotiated between doctors’ defense attorneys and prosecutors for the Department of Health.

Most settlement agreements call for a “letter of concern,” a fine, courses on appropriate prescribing and community service. Sometimes the board rejects the settlement and recommends a stiffer penalty, such as probation or a competency evaluation. At that point, the doctor has seven days to decide whether to accept it or request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.

Among those joining the protest today at the busy corner of Cypress Avenue and Westshore Boulevard were at least eight people from South Florida who made the long drive up.

Henry Garcia of Plantation said he was there in honor of his 30-year-old son who died a year ago of an overdose of painkillers after two tries at rehabilitation.

The protest was organized by STOPPNOW (Stop the Organized Pill Pushers Now) from Broward County.  Members wore red T-shirts that said "Stopp Killing Our Children."

Director Janet Colbert, RN, held a sign noting the address of a Broward pain clinic where two doctors are still prescribing even though they were the subjects of a raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration earlier this year. The sign quoted the DOH's letter on the reason the physicians weren't charged:

"After a preliminary but thorough inquiry into the situation, we were unable to obtain sufficient evidence for us to proceed with our investigation against either of the practitioners named," Colbert said she was told.

Colbert, a neonatal nurse who became concerned about the epidemic of babies born addicted to prescription narcotics, says she wonders why DEA could find evidence but the state could not.

“We feel the Board of Medicine is allowing doctors to prescribe massive doses of drugs and they’re not revoking their licenses,” said Colbert.

Tootle and others from DOH have said they sympathize with the parents who have lost family members to drug overdoses but say the agency and board are doing all they can to investigate and prosecute complaints.

They are implementing new laws that allow regulation and inspection of pain clinics and the launch of a prescription drug monitoring program, E-FORCSE. Also, physicians can no longer dispense controlled drugs from their offices.

At its last meeting in August, the medical board revoked, suspended or accepted voluntary relinquishment of licenses from six doctors for prescription-related violations of the Medical Practice Act, Tootle said.

In addition, she noted, Surgeon General Frank Farmer has developed a system of emergency suspensions and practice restrictions while cases are pending before the board, when warranted.
 
--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Questions or comments can be directed to Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.