Report: Easily-obtained meds leading to more abuse among Medicare patients

A Huntsville doctor who surrendered his license to prescribe last year wrote more than 14,000 in a calendar year, a report shows. (Source: WAFF)
A Huntsville doctor who surrendered his license to prescribe last year wrote more than 14,000 in a calendar year, a report shows. (Source: WAFF)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A new report shows the number of Medicare patients using prescription drugs is on the rise.

Doctors who write the prescriptions are under the microscope.

A ProPublica report lists a former Huntsville doctor as the number one prescriber in the country.

We spoke to legal counsel at the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners' office, and while they wouldn't go into detail about the investigation, they did confirm that Dr. Shelinder Aggarwal surrendered his medical license amid being investigated for unprofessional conduct, endangering the health of patients, and distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose, among others. (Read PDF)

A counselor who treats prescription drug abusers says the problem is not limited to one doctor.

The relief associated with opiates like oxycodone or vicodin make it easily addictive - and so does their availability.

"It is easy to get, and most people get it free from a friend of neighbor," said licensed counselor Pettina King.

King says many of her patients also get the pills the right way, from their doctor. She says the problem then lies with either how they use them, or with a particular doctor.

"Unscrupulous doctors may just continue to write these prescriptions. or if this doctor won't write it, you just go to the next doctor that may not have as high of a moral standard," King said.

King says it all boils down to money.

The ProPublica study found that in 2012, doctors churned out the largest number of prescriptions for powerful narcotics to Medicare patients than ever before - up 9 percent from the year prior.

The same study found that the nation's number one prescriber was former Huntsville doctor, Shelinder Aggarwal, writing more than 14,000 prescriptions in just one year to patients on Medicare.

He surrendered his medical license four months later after an investigation by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners.

King says prescription drug abuse may be the most difficult addiction to treat because there are legitimate reasons people take the medication, and certified people handing it out.

Still, she says, if you or someone you know has a problem, it's important to reach out for help.

"I don't think people take it as seriously as they should to realize this is a serious addiction and something that does damage to the brain and to the body. And it also does damage to the person's life and their lifestyle and people around them," King said.

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