In July I blogged about Dr. John Christensen, a West Palm Beach doctor who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the overdose deaths of two patients he treated at his clinics, which investigators described as “pill mills.”
I am not a fan of the death penalty but not for the usual reasons. As someone who has sat through murder trials, walked down death row, interviewed condemned killers, actually sat in the electric chair and witnessed an execution – I have decided that capital punishment is futile, immoral and a monumental waste of tax-dollars.
If you really want to punish someone, lock them in a 6 x 9 foot cell for 30 or 40 years. The average length of stay on Florida’s death row is 13 years and many killers will tell you they would prefer to die than live out their lives in a box.
Although research has shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent, I suspect that executing a physician who knowingly prescribed massive doses of drugs to an addict who then overdosed, would be a deterrent to other physicians. A really, really big deterrent.
As I wrote in July, I believe many doctors commit malpractice when they prescribe certain medications, such as benzodiazepenes, to addicts and alcoholics. It may not be deliberate, premeditated or willful malpractice but it’s still malpractice.
In Christensen’s case, it appears to have been deliberate. Iinvestigators focused on 35 patients from several Florida counties who died after Christensen prescribed them high-powered narcotics. In two of those cases investigators concluded they had enough evidence to charge him with murder.
According to investigators, Christensen prescribed lethal doses of oxycodone, Xanax and methadone to patients who didn’t have legitimate medical needs. In fact, Christensen’s attorneys argued in civil lawsuits that the doctor was trying to help addicts wean themselves from drugs. Christensen settled the suits without admitting wrongdoing.
Physicians should screen patients for addiction and alcoholism before write a scripts for opioids or benzos. Period. Will an active addict/alcoholic respond truthfully? Probably not. Still, the questions should be asked. The CAGE questions are easy:
- C – Have you ever felt you ought to Cut down on your drinking/drug use?
- A – Have people ever Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking/drug use?
- G – Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking/drug use?
- E – Have you needed an Eye-opener or a drink in the morning to steady your nerves?
Here are a few more:
- Do you use recreational drugs?
- What drugs are you taking now? (don’t rely on the form the patient filled out. Lying is easy on paper. It’s not so easy when you have to hear yourself lie)
- Have you ever tried to stop drinking or taking drugs? Been to a 12-step meeting or rehab?
A simple screening does not take long and accomplishes two things: Pre-emptive CYA for doctors and a reality check for lying addicts and alcoholics. We alcoholics and addicts actually do have consciences and are capable of feeling guilty about lying. Lying to a doctor is just one more reminder that we’re an alcoholic/addict. Remind us enough and maybe we’ll quit.
I am dual-diagnosed. I have alcoholism and hypomania, which tends to turn to the depressive side. I know plenty of other dual-diagnosed addicts and alcoholics and many of them – including me – have been offered some kind of pain killer or benzo by a doctor or dentist. No questions asked.
In Dr. Christensen’s case, it appears he knew his patients were addicts and prescribed the drugs anyway. Dr. Christensen’s lawyer, Richard Lubin, said the deaths were accidental, not premeditated: “You can’t get the death penalty for an accidental or unintentional death.”
We will see.