Earlier this month, the nonprofit investigative journalism website ProPublica released a database of prescriptions covered by Medicare Part D in 2010. The database provides drug-by-drug, doctor-by-doctor and state-by-state breakdowns of prescriptions, which allowed us to find West Virginia’s most-prescribed drug — hydrocodone-acetaminophen — and the drug’s top prescriber, Charleston neurologist Dr. Iraj Derakhshan.
Derakhshan treated 609 Medicare patients in 2010 and wrote 4,032 hydrocodone prescriptions, according to the database. But as Derakhshan told me for today’s story, he isn’t surprised he ranked among the state’s top narcotics prescribers.
“Pain is the No. 1 complaint that takes a patient to a doctor, so it makes sense to write anti-pain medication. I’m a neurologist. I see a lot of headache patients. I believe it’s inhumane to make a patient suffer.”
Derakhshan also stressed that painkiller addictions are exceedingly rare among patients who take the drugs as prescribed by their doctors. Mike O’Neal, a professor of drug diversion, substance abuse and pain management at Knoxville South College School of Pharmacy in Tennessee, agreed.
“There is very little data that says if you take the drug, exactly the way you are prescribed it, you don’t take an extra dose, you don’t take one from your spouse or anyone else . . . there’s little data that says you’ll become addicted.”
O’Neal did say, however, that hydrocodone is very addictive when abused and is in some ways more dangerous than other narcotics like oxycodone, since an overdose of acetaminophen will box your kidneys and liver.
In other news:
- State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin will open a new juvenile drug court in McDowell County today (AP).
- Also from the Associated Press, Lawrence Messina reports about the big decision facing House of Delegates members as Rick Thompson leaves his post as Speaker.