Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deadly Practice of Doctor Shopping Goes Mainstream

The practice of going from doctor to doctor to fraudulently obtain prescription drugs is not just a habit of the rich and famous. Most recently, the alarming practice was thrust into the spotlight when former child star Corey Haim was reportedly found to have as many as "553 prescriptions for dangerous drugs in the last year of his life," and it was the result of doctor shopping," according to CNN.com.

He was not alone. Doctor shopping reared its head in a number of recent celebrity deaths, including Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith, according to some news reports.

But people from all walks of life doctor shop. Just ask Dr. Rani G. Whitfield, who said patients come to his practice in Baton Rouge, La., seeking prescriptions for addictive painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, also known as Lortab. The telltale signs of drug-seeking behavior are that patients need a certain drug because they are allergic to this drug or that drug, he said. It's not just crackheads, he said. It's lawyers, athletes and doctors, too.

"A patient doesn't dictate to me how I run my practice," said Whitfield, also known as the "Hip-Hop Doc" because he combines the culture with important health messages for young people. "A patient who comes in with X-rays and allergies to everything but Oxycontin is trying to run a game on you. That is drug-seeking behavior. They want what they want and will jump through hoops to get it."

The solution, Whitfield said is for doctors to develop a strong relationship with their patients so that they can suggest counseling the minute they suspect drug-seeking behavior.

"Doctors also should develop good relationships with other doctors so they can call each other to determine whether a patient who displays drug-seeking behavior has been to other offices to request the same prescriptions so they can nip the problem in the bud," he said. "But this doesn't begin to address mail-order prescriptions, which also are a big part of the problem."

In his private practice, Whitfield concentrates on family medicine, according to his Web site. Daily, he diagnoses and treats hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol problems. He performs more than 200 pre-participation physicals each year and coordinates care for athletes (insured or uninsured). Additionally, Whitfield is the medical director of both Cenikor Foundation, a long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment center, and Set Free Indeed, an outpatient faith-based substance abuse treatment center. Whitfield also is one of two physicians responsible for the health care of the inmates at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, the site says.

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