It is an honor to be a physician. It is an even greater privilege to use my knowledge and ability at Timberline Knolls to help very ill girls and women recover from addictions, eating disorders, and other mental health issues.
Although I would prefer to believe that all professionals in the medical field have a deep understanding of the great privilege and responsibility that comes with being a doctor; that is unfortunately not the case.
Last month, an extraordinary blog entitled ”Killers in White Coats: Pill Mill Doctors Ignoring the Oath for Greed” appeared on a website, The Fix. It was written by a woman named MaryBeth Cichocki. MaryBeth is a registered nurse in Delaware; importantly, she is a mother, a mother of a son who was addicted to prescription drugs.
Galvanized by concern for her son, she launched an investigation into legal pill mills, where prescriptions were provided to anyone who had the cash to pay for them, with little attention to the risk factors and grave danger associated with the development of addiction. Each month Marybeth’s son, Matt, received prescriptions for a deadly combination of drugs that included Percocet, methadone and a generic muscle relaxer.
She filed a formal complaint against the so-called pain management clinic to the State Board of Medicine. The response: ”We find no fault with the prescribing methods of this practice.”
Throughout the blog, she repeatedly referred to the Hippocratic Oath, which was written by Hippocrates and is known to be the oldest binding document in history. It is a sacred oath that is still recited in medical school graduations. At the University of Chicago, we recited it during our White-Coat Ceremony at the very beginning of medical school, to highlight the seriousness of this oath and our responsibilities even as student doctors beginning our training.
The public at large is fairly familiar with the dictate to “do no harm,” but the promise also includes the statement: ”I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”
Those in white coats who recklessly prescribe opiate-based medications without assessing addiction risk have quite intentionally deleted any memory of the Hippocratic Oath. They exist as the antithesis of all that true physicians stand for. They do harm every time they place pen to paper on a prescription pad, and dole out a potentially harmful medication, often times with no mention to the patient of abuse potential. Although some of them lack understanding and awareness of addiction, some are fully aware but press on all the same, motivated by one thing: money.
People throughout the United States are extremely focused on terrorism these days and rightly so. However, we might want to ramp up our concern regarding the attack on an epidemic number of Americans by medical terrorists. The unethical, uninformed doctor with a prescription pad is spared the devastating outcome that families and friends are left to recover from–the untimely death of a son, wife, daughter or friend who succumbs to addiction and ultimately dies due to drug overdose.
Marybeth’s son was one of these victims; Matt overdosed and died.
The time has come for each of us in the medical community to take responsibility for the medications we prescribe, the amounts we prescribe them in, the risk assessments we perform on our patients and the informed consent we are obligated to give them. Knowing when not to prescribe and what the alternatives are to narcotic pain medications is our responsibility.
First and of greatest importance: do no harm.