Four Arizona Doctors Prescribed Nearly 6 Million Opioids In 1 Year

By Paul Gaita 11/20/17

The top-prescribing doctor among the four wrote more than 20,000 prescriptions over the 12-month period.

four medical professionals standing with their arms crossed

Statistics from Arizona's prescription drug monitoring program have revealed that a quartet of doctors from a small northwestern county issued opioid prescriptions for nearly 6 million pills over a 12-month period.

Ducey, who declared a state of emergency in Arizona this year after opioid overdose deaths jumped 74% since 2013, called the information "shocking and profoundly disturbing"—though as AZ Central noted, details of any actual legal action regarding the data have not been released.

The four doctors in question are located in Mohave County, which as of 2016 is home to an estimated 205,249 residents. The data from the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program did not list the doctors by name, but only the total number of prescriptions, total pill quantities and home county, among other information.

The top-prescribing doctor among the four wrote more than 20,000 prescriptions, totaling more than 1.9 million pills, or approximately 7,350 pills a day.

The second top-prescribing doctor wrote more than 15,000 prescriptions for nearly 1.6 million pills. The other two Mohave County doctors issued prescriptions for a combined 2.4 million pills. All four doctors were listed on the state's list of the 15 top-opioid prescribing doctors, who in all prescribed approximately 14 million pills—about 3% of the state's total opioid prescriptions, according to AZ Central.

Exactly why and how these four doctors were able to issue so many opioid pills is something of a mystery, according to Kam Gandhi, executive director of the Arizona Board of Pharmacy. "I'm not sure if it's because of the remote locations, where it's an out of sight, out of mind thing for pharmacy monitoring," he told AZ Central. Its relatively close proximity to Las Vegas, which is approximately two hours away by car, is one possible reason, according to Gandhi.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to specify exactly what actions are being taken by his office in regard to the data, though AZ Central quoted Doug Skvarla, who directs the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program. Skvarla noted that information from the program was given to Brnovich's office for "an open investigation," though he could not confirm if the information related to Ducey's request.

The governor's senior policy advisor, Christina Corieri, also said that the information has been sent to the state medical board, which routinely investigates issues regarding medical professionals, including experts from the pharmacy and medical boards, and public health officials. 

In a separate statement, AZ Central cited a letter issued by Patricia McSorley, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board and the Arizona Regulatory Board of Physician Assistants, who said in a statement to the Republic that the board recently disciplined or restricted the licenses of several doctors "based upon prescribing violations"—though it was unclear if these actions were taken as a direct result of Ducey's request for an investigation. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.