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The other casualties of prescription drug abuse

June 26, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Prescription drug addicts aren't the only casualties of pharmaceutical drug abuse.

A National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) study suggests that physicians' fears of prescribing addictive drugs and facing disciplinary action from regulatory agencies have resulted in the under-medication of patients with legitimate needs.

When doctors limit pain medication, thousands suffer needlessly, according to the NIDA.

"I can't tell you how crucial this is," said Hagerstown doctor Ramsay J. Farah, secretary of the state medical society.

"Physicians, including myself, we are all very scared to appropriately treat pain," Farah said.

In addition to the alarming number of fraudulent patients "doctor shopping" to fuel their prescription drug addictions, the practices of Dr. Jack Kevorkian - a radical advocate of medical euthanasia - has drawn criticism to physicians' prescribing practices, Farah said.

Health care providers struggle to strike a balance between the amount of medication needed to alleviate pain and still prevent addiction and/or death, he said.

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"The question is how to structure the system to treat patients, especially those with cancer and terminal illness, without putting the provider in a compromised situation," Farah said.

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