When it comes to deaths involving opioid analgesics, one physician has had enough.
Hassan Amjad, MD, an oncologist based in West Virginia, has teamed up with fellow physician Hassan Jafary, MD, and Leonard Clay, a concerned citizen to form an advocacy group to tackle the issue head-on by going straight to the source.
The West Virginia Advocacy Group Inc. is a 501c3-designated organization designed to help curtail the escalating problem of prescription drug abuse within Raleigh County and surrounding communities by gaining refusals to prescribe the addicting compounds.
Dr. Amjad has pledged to stop prescribing addictive compounds, particularly oxycodone and Percocet, and is asking other physicians to do the same, according to an article published in the Register-Herald.
“We are asking other physicians to say, ‘Yes, we see the problem, we see young people dying. We should do everything we can to stop it. We will not write these medications,’” he told the newspaper.
“I do hereby pledge that no prescriptions for oxycodone will be written by me for any patient,” reads line one. Volunteers will actively circulate the agreement among Raleigh County physicians, and Drs. Amjad and Jafary are displaying it in their own practices.
Amjad believes that only certain patients with terminal illnesses should require Oxycontin and its various formulations, and that the lax practices of physicians in prescribing the medications for patients with benign conditions such as arthritis or back pain are contributing directly to the drug problem in southern West Virginia.
“There are patients who had foot surgery 10 years ago and are still getting these pills,” Amjad said in the article. “Even as an oncologist, I am saying there is very little need for oxycodone and Percocet in treating patients.”
A study published online August 23, 20011 in the British Medical Journal supports the limited need for these medications, noting that the number of deaths in the United States involving opioid analgesics increased from 4041 in 1999 to 14,459 in 2007 and are now more common than deaths from multiple myeloma, HIV, and alcoholic liver disease. Opioid prescribing and opioid related deaths—most of them unintentional and of relatively young people—have also increased in other countries, including the United Kingdom, according to lead researcher Irfan Dhalla, MD, of the University of Toronto.
“We know that the risk of addiction for patients who are being treated for chronic pain for several months or longer is 35%,” he told Medscape Medical News, which is significantly higher than the figure of 1% that many believed was accurate. “Physicians need to take a much more cautious approach to prescribing opioids for chronic noncancer pain, and governments and regulatory agencies need to change the way they do business so that physicians can prescribe more safely.”
Dr. Amjad believes that many of the overdose deaths seen in young patients occur as a result of accidental overdose of prescription narcotics, chiefly those who have combined them with Xanax or alcohol.
“There is no way that a patient without a terminal illness needs these medications,” he told the Register-Herald. “You can see people in doctors’ and pharmacy parking lots coming out with prescriptions and selling them right there. If you are going to be socially responsible as a prescriber, then why not come forward and sign this pledge?”
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