Earlier this week I was in Sacramento, CA, testifying against two bills being heard by the State Senate’s Business and Professions Committee. The two bills – Senate Bill 670 and 62 – would unless amended give the state’s Medical Board such broad new powers that it’ll be as drastic as giving an Oxy to someone who only needs an Advil. During Committee testimony, the California Medical Association’s lobbyist and I were on the same side of the issues, which is cool, because we’re right. But even though we’re right about these bills – that unless amended they should not become law – we are up against a desperate Medical Board and the legislative and media juggernaut eager to “do something” about prescription drug abuse.
SB 670 would allow the Medical Board to seek interim suspension orders against MD’s and PA’s whose “overprescribing” is believed to “result in a death from prescription drug use.” The bill would also allow the Medical Board to seek suspension of a licensee’s authorization to prescribe controlled substances. The major problems with this bill: California law doesn’t define “overprescribing,” it doesn’t define (or understand why it can’t define) “died as a result of prescription drug use,” and it conflicts with DEA authority about prescription writing, without providing administrative protections available to licensees under federal law. In seeking to curb prescription drug abuse, SB 670 invites government abuse of power. The bill passed unanimously in Committee. Notably, it is authored by the Senate’s President Pro Tem, a very capable and good guy, and one whose leadership position gives him a lot of influence in how every member approaches the Pro Tem’s bills.
SB 62 would require the state’s coroners to report to the Medical Board any patient death believed to be the result of prescription drug use. Sensible idea; amazing it’s not already law. However, the problems with this bill are: The debate over exactly when prescription drug use has contributed to a death is still on within the medical community; the quality of the state’s coroner services vary widely from county to county; and without a statewide protocol in place for use by each county’s coroner, there will be 58 coroners’ offices in 58 counties, doing 58 different things. That’s a formula for shoddy analysis and reckless reporting. A Committee member asked the bill’s author, who chairs the Committee, whether the author would amend the bill to require a statewide protocol. The author was open to it in order to get the bill through, but spoke against the need for a protocol. Guess uniformity doesn’t matter when it’s not your medical office being raided.
My prediction is that in the current legislative, media and law enforcement environment, these bills will pass as is, and while they are really intended for the few and corrupt, they will be misapplied readily against the many and legitimate pain management practitioners in this state. That will be an unfair and costly shame, but it’s likely to happen.
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