The Investigators

Nov 6, 2013 6:02 PM by Tom McNamara

Pain-killer abuse means less privacy for health info

Most people think it's a fundamental right: what you tell your doctor, should be kept strictly in confidence.

But as the News 4 Tucson Investigators discovered, your right to privacy might not be as clear-cut as you might think.

The country's largest drugstore chain, Walgreens, has a new policy in place. It's in part, a response to a multi-million government fine. But, that policy is raising concerns among some customers, and even doctors.

It's because of the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Specifically, drugs like Oxycodone.

Earlier this year the feds fined Walgreens 80-million dollars. The fine was over allegations the company negligently allowed controlled substances, including highly addictive painkillers, to end up the black market

Now, a recent policy in response to that record settlement that went along with it has Walgreens coming under scrutiny.

The issue here involves an internal Walgreen's document called the ‘Good Faith Dispensing Checklist.' Walgreen's didn't want to give a copy to us, but the News 4 Tucson investigators managed to get our hands on one. And, some questions on the checklist are raising concerns with some patients, and some doctors.

Among the things the checklist has the pharmacist ask doctors: The diagnosis, and expected length of treatment.

"I think it's a very dangerous trend, and it's going to make it very very difficult for legitimate patients to get life-saving drugs that they need," says Tucson doctor Jane Orient.

Dr. Orient goes on to say, she sees several problems checklist, and, it puts doctors in a bad position.

"In my opinion, the Pharmacist has no right to know that. And really, it's contrary to my ethical obligation to keep medical information confidential," Orient says.

Dr. Orient also says the policy undercuts the role of the physician, when it comes to knowing what's best for their patient.

"Why did I go to medical school and get this degree, if I can't decide what the patient needs?" Orient says.

Dr. Orient also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Walgreen's policy may not actually do what it's supposed to.

"It's just unrealistic to think that you're going to stop an epidemic of abuse of drugs by enquiring into people's private lives," Orient says.

Walgreen's customers we spoke with also had their own concerns about the policy.

"I don't think its right. It's just too much information for them to know. Just trust the doctor, you know?" says

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to get Walgreens' side of the story. Below is a copy of their emailed response.

Walgreen's is not alone. Drugstore chain CVS also hopes to combat the abuse of painkillers. The company has identified dozens of doctors nationwide as problematic. The company is no longer allowing their locations to fill the prescriptions the doctors write out for pain meds.

If you have something you'd like the news four Tucson investigators to look into, email us at investigators@ kvoa.com

Walgreen's statement provided by spokesman, Jim Graham:

With the sharp rise in the abuse of prescription painkillers in recent years, health care professionals in all practices are continuously striving to find better ways of ensuring those medications are used only for legitimate medical purposes. We are working to ensure our patients continue to have access to the medications they need while fulfilling our role in reducing the potential abuse of controlled substances. We have recently taken a number of steps to provide additional guidance and training to our pharmacies on the proper handling of controlled substances. Because of the legal requirements placed on pharmacists to verify that controlled substance prescriptions are issued for a legitimate medical purpose, pharmacists may need to gather additional patient information from their prescribing physician's office. This diligence may take extra time.

For example, under our good faith dispensing policy, pharmacists may determine that they first need to check the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database for anything unusual. In Arizona, the program is called the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program, or CSPMP. They may also decide to contact the prescribing doctor's office to verify the diagnosis and confirm that the patient has had a recent examination. Often, this information can be obtained from a member of the doctor's staff.

Our good faith dispensing policy is intended to be used consistently by our pharmacists for each individual prescription to determine whether the doctor's office needs to be contacted. Our policy does not require prescriber contact for every prescription.

We firmly believe that addressing prescription drug abuse will require all parties - including leaders in the community, physicians, pharmacies, distributors and regulators - to play a role in finding practical solutions to combatting abuse while balancing patient access to critical medication."

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