Most-abused prescription drugs
Prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs are godsends for people who suffer from debilitating pain and panic disorders. But they can be highly addictive, and their proper use requires close medical supervision. In 2006, 180 million prescriptions were written for opioid painkillers; 11,000 people died from misusing them. These are among the most frequently abused prescription drugs:
Fentanyl: Narcotic painkiller, more potent than morphine. Typically used to treat patients with severe pain, such as after surgery or for cancer pain.
Hydrocodone: Opioid and ingredient in pain relievers like Lorcet, Norco and Vicodin. As powerful as oral morphine.
Oxycodone: Narcotic painkiller found in drugs like OxyContin, Roxicodone and Percocet.
Alprazolam: Commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and often taken with pain drugs. The brand name is Xanax.
Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Government Accountability Office
Who's in charge
Many agencies are involved in regulating, disciplining and investigating Florida doctors who prescribe controlled substances:
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration: The DEA enforces the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors cannot prescribe federally controlled drugs like Vicodin, a painkiller, or Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, unless they have a DEA registration number. The DEA can revoke physicians' ability to prescribe these medicines.
Florida Department Of Health: Lead state agency overseeing medical doctors and osteopathic physicians. (Osteopaths are trained to emphasize the role of the skeleton and muscles in healing.) The DOH investigates complaints against doctors and can suspend or restrict a doctor's license to practice.
FLORIDA BOARD OF MEDICINE: Made up of 12 physicians and three consumer members, the board regulates Florida's 61,000 medical doctors and hears evidence gathered by the Department of Health in cases of alleged misconduct. It can issue discipline ranging from minor citations to permanent revocation of licenses to practice.
FLORIDA BOARD OF OSTEOPATHIC MEDICINE: Similar to the Board of Medicine, it regulates Florida's 6,000 osteopaths.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: It works with the DEA and local law enforcement agencies to investigate possible criminal action by doctors, but is not required to report arrests of physicians to the state's health regulators.
FLORIDA MEDICAL EXAMINERS: Florida's 24 medical examiner districts investigate sudden, unexpected and violent deaths to determine their cause. Investigators inventory the prescription drugs found at a death scene, but medical examiners are not required to report overdose deaths to the health department.
By the numbers
The St. Petersburg Times reviewed the cases of the 159 physicians who have been disciplined for misprescribing pain medications by the Department of Health and state medical boards since 2005. Here is an overall look at their backgrounds and experience:
59 percent trained at U.S. medical schools
22Average number of years licensed to practice in Florida
64 percent had a specialty medical certification, most commonly in family medicine and internal medicine
39 percent also faced criminal charges
14 percent reported personal substance abuse
28 percent listed addresses in Tampa Bay or west central Florida
Go to www.doh.state.fl.us/mqa to review any Florida physician's license status and past discipline. Also available: the doctor's education, specialty credentials and some but not all complaints. You'll also find online instructions on how to file a complaint, or request a complaint form at (850) 488-0595.