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Suspended State Program May Have Flagged Rogue Physician

Patricia Murphy
06/03/2010

A case involving a prominent Seattle physician who allegedly traded prescription drugs for sex has raised questions about how the state regulates certain prescriptions. Dr. Leonard Hudson was arrested while making rounds at the University of Washington Medical Center last week. The State Department of Health says Hudson wrote 30 prescriptions for large amounts of OxyContin, Xanax and Percocet over the course of five months. As KUOW's Patricia Murphy reports, the state cut a program that could help identify cases like this.

TRANSCRIPT

Dr. Leonard Hudson is renowned for his expertise as former head of the University of Washington Medical School's pulmonary and critical care division. In January he got a call from a police detective, who told Hudson one of his patients could be engaging in drug–seeking behavior.

The 22–year–old woman was battling a severe opiate addiction. She had overdosed in the past. Her parents were concerned for her safety and had notified police after learning of Hudson's prescriptions.

The young woman was also seeing another physician, who was giving her prescriptions for an opiate replacement. Court documents say Hudson told the detective he would monitor the patient's drug use. But instead he allegedly continued to prescribe opiates to the woman in exchange for sex.

That activity would likely have been caught by a prescription monitoring program that the state tried to implement two years ago. The legislature allocated $680 thousand to the Department of Health to create the database and track drugs of misuse. Thirty–four states currently use it to combat prescription drug abuse. But according to the Health Department's Lisa Hodgson, the program didn't survive the budget axe.

Hodgson: "The prescription monitoring program has been suspended. The legislature has authorized the program. But due to budget cuts we did have to suspend our program. "

Hodgson wouldn't talk specifically about Hudson's case. But she believes if the program had been operational Hudson's actions may have drawn some attention.

Hodgson: "The goal of a prescription monitoring program is to identify patients that may be at risk. So depending upon where we would have set thresholds the individual may have been identified."

In fact the patient was identified, by the billing company that she was using to fill Hudson's prescriptions. That company is Medco Health. Ann Smith is their spokesperson.

Smith: "We have within our integrated system alerts that get triggered when we see things such as multiple prescription claims being filled by one patient within a 90 day period, multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies being used by one patient such as these. And we make a proactive outreach to the prescribing physician with regards to behavior that we're seeing."

Smith says Medco's program has decreased prescription abuse by 32 percent. By some estimates, prescription drug abuse nationwide will top $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Dr. Michael Schiesser is a Bellevue physician and president of the Washington Society of Addiction Medicine.

Schiesser: "We're talking about the costs of medical complications. We're talking about the costs of abuse treatment. Productivity loss for people who have died or are underemployed, incarcerated. Criminal justice costs and then about half of it is the costs of medical care that's unnecessary when patients are doctor shopping."

Schiesser says the cost of a prescription monitoring program is nominal compared to the costs of prescription drug abuse.

Schiesser: "If you look at all the aspects of society that could be improved by just a small improvement in the problem it's a small amount of money to pay for a very useful tool."

When asked if the system worked in Hudson's case, the Department of Health maintains it did.

Meantime, Department of Health's Lisa Hodgson says the state has applied for a federal grant to help fund a prescription monitoring program. Officials will know by September if that money comes through.

I'm Patricia Murphy, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2010, KUOW

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