This week's question comes from Lee-Ann T. from Orinda, who asks:
Q: "What is this initiative I heard about regarding doctors, drugs and medical malpractice damages awards?"
A: Thank you for this question. You have been keeping up with this column and the news, and for that I am grateful. On July 24, a medical malpractice victim, Bob Pack, filed an initiative titled the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014, designed to prevent people from being injured and killed by doctors with substance abuse problems and to preclude doctor-shopping for narcotics by drug addicts.
On Oct. 26, 2003, in Danville, Carmen Pack was walking to get ice cream with her two children, 10-year-old Troy and 7-year-old Alana, when Jimina Barreto, with three DUIs and nine license suspensions, was driving seriously impaired, reportedly under the influence of strong opioid medications. She drove up onto the sidewalk and killed Troy and Alana. That day, Carmen watched her children die in front of her eyes.
Barreto, repeatedly saying that she did not want to go to jail "again," fled the scene. She was convicted of second-degree murder May 4, 2005. These deaths were the direct result of Barreto obtaining narcotics through a practice of doctor-shopping where addicts, masquerading as pain patients, go to multiple doctors and obtain multiple prescriptions. Although there was a database that would have allowed these physicians to see Barreto's drug-seeking behavior, the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, it was not checked. As a result, the Packs' children were killed. Go to www.troyandalana.org to learn about the Pack Foundation, which has been created to prevent further senseless deaths from over-prescription of drugs.
The initiative can be read by going to the attorney general's website, www.oag.ca.gov/home, and entering the title, Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, into the search window. The act seeks to: 1) Protect patients and their families from injury caused by doctors who are impaired by alcohol or drugs, by requiring hospitals to conduct random drug and alcohol testing of the doctors and requiring them to test physicians after an unexpected death or serious injury occurs; 2) Require licensed health care practitioners to report doctors who appear to be impaired by drugs or alcohol while on duty or if any physician who was responsible for the care and treatment of a patient during an adverse event failed to follow the appropriate standard of care; 3) Require hospitals to report any verified positive results of drug and alcohol testing to the California Medical Board; and 4) Require that any doctor who tests positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty or who willfully fails or refuses to submit to such testing be temporarily suspended from the practice of medicine pending an investigation.
The initiative requires the Medical Board to take disciplinary action against a doctor if the board finds that the doctor was impaired by drugs or alcohol while on duty or during an adverse event (such as cutting off the wrong leg, leaving instruments in the body, etc.) or that the doctor willfully refused to comply with drug and alcohol testing. It also requires doctors to check the CURES prescription drug database prior to writing a prescription for certain controlled substances for a patient for the first time, and if the patient already has a prescription, determine that the patient has a legitimate need before prescribing the medication, in order to protect patients and others.
The initiative would also adjust the $250,000 cap on compensation for pain, suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, decline of quality of life and death in medical negligence lawsuits set by the Legislature in 1975 to account for inflation. It would also provide annual adjustments in the future in order to boost health care accountability, act as a deterrent and ensure that patients, their families and others who are injured by negligent doctors are entitled to be made whole for their loss while retaining the statutory cap on attorney fees in medical negligence cases.
This initiative, arising from the Packs' senseless tragedy, and their boundless desire to protect others, is a very good public safety measure that the doctors are opposing because they don't want to be tested or held responsible if they fail to check the CURES database.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.