Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Senate Committee Looks at Prescription Drug Abuse

Dr. Driver testifies before the
Senate Committee on Criminal Justice
The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice heard public testimony yesterday on recommendations for enhancing ongoing efforts to crack down on prescription drug abuse, including the new online monitoring database. State health officials, law enforcement representatives, physicians, patient advocates, and others testified on a range of solutions: increased funding for Texas Department of Public Safety programs, a multi-agency prescription drug management strategy workgroup, and improved education programs for patients and health care professionals.

Larry Driver, MD, professor in the Department of Pain Medicine at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, testified on behalf of the Texas Medical Association and the American Cancer Society. He told committee members as a cancer pain physician, he sees patients daily who have severe pain and require prescription medication to alleviate their suffering. “About one-third of cancer patients will have lifelong pain that is a residual effect of their cancer treatment,” he said. “Oncologic surgeons cut nerves, medical oncologists poison nerves with their chemotherapies, and radiation oncologists fry nerves with their treatments. Once those nerves are damaged, they change the way they function forever, so patients can have almost debilitating pain for the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Driver said, “I have to find a balance between pain relief [for patients] and the side effects” of a particular drug. Doctors “want to help law enforcement find a balance, too,” in their efforts to pursue criminal activity. Doctors are working “hand-in-hand with law enforcement in their efforts to curb misuse, abuse, and diversion of prescription pain medication and other controlled substances. At the same time, we want to look out for the best interests of people with chronic pain. We [physicians] are on board with programs to educate the public and health care professionals at all levels.”

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, echoed that sentiment, saying whatever direction the legislature takes, “there is a legitimate place in the medical world for these drugs, and we don’t want to inflict hardship” on either the physicians who are legitimately prescribing pain medications or the patients they treat. Lawmakers will “keep tweaking” the prescription drug monitoring database and other tools “to outsmart the crooks” and balance valid medical needs, she said.

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