Dangerous drugs are often overprescribed due to conflicts of interest inherent in the medical industry. The case of Farid Fata, M.D. is a case in point. This oncologist recently pleaded guilty to criminal charges arising out of chemotherapy medications that he prescribed to patients who either didn’t need the drugs or would not benefit from them. His clinic submitted about $109 million in Medicare claims for cancer treatments between 2007 and 2013, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. In this case, the doctor sold out his patients for cold hard cash.
Some conflicts between patient and doctor are more subtle. For instance, 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals received $3.5 Billion from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers in the last five months of 2013, according to Reuters. The payments are disguised as “consultant fees,” “speaking fees,” or “research grants,” but also include travel, meals and entertainment. These doctors are incentivized to push medicines and procedures that may be unnecessary or dangerous.
Overuse of painkillers has become so prevalent in American medicine that the American Academy of Neurology recently issued a warning about it. The AAN noted that the risks of opioids far outweigh their benefits in chronic pain conditions such as headache, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain. In Ohio, by contrast, the Ohio State Medical Board continues to endorse use of prescription narcotics for non-cancer pain, though it recommends a cutoff of 80 mg/day morphine-equivalent.
One aspect of this problem is the lack of oversight. Physicians in Ohio are loosely regulated by the Ohio State Medical Board, but in my experience, this is the fox guarding the henhouse. Like everything else in medicine, investigations are shrouded in secrecy and there are few regulatory parameters. In the case of Dr. Fata, his wildly inflated prescription rate escaped the attention of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies alike because they do not track such data. It is in their economic interest to push pills, so to speak, not protect patients.
When physicians, biased by conflicts of interest, prescribe dangerous drugs and medical procedures with virtually no oversight, the risk of abuse is obvious. When it results in injury or death, the basis for a medical malpractice claim my exist. In Ohio, a medical negligence claim arises when a physician provides an unnecessary medication or procedure and harm results therefrom.