Regarding the CNN story entitled Pain Doctor Investigation, thereafter rehashed by Anderson Cooper, which aired last week and has variously appeared on the Internet, Dr. Sanjay Gupta should be ashamed for his misdirection and reprehensible approach to the story on a number of levels.
This eerily appeared almost a year to the day after a similar “pain doctor bashing” by the Wall Street Journal last year that also served to sensationalize “bad doctors” rather than tell the whole truth or advocate for those clinicians that are highly recognized for their dedication and contributions to pain patients, medicine, and science. Last year’s story attempted to lambaste another internationally well-respected clinician, Dr. Russell Portenoy and was covered on PainDr.com HERE.
In short, this year’s CNN’s coverage is of a woman that died while Dr. Lynn Webster, also an internationally well-respected clinician, was treating her chronic pain. She was presumably on opioid therapy, but that’s all that anybody knows without carefully combing through her medical records. In the CNN piece, Dr. Gupta spends most of his time interviewing the patient’s husband who is understandably distraught over his wife’s death. Gupta attempts an interview with Dr. Lynn Webster who refuses to grant an interview or discuss any personal patient issues.
With all due respect for [media sensationalist] Dr. Gupta’s credentials as a neurosurgeon, educator, and journalist; he has clearly abandoned the patient community at large by joining his correspondent colleagues to sensationalize opioid deaths. Dr. Gupta, have you considered that perhaps Dr. Webster did not grant an interview because he is protecting the family and abiding by HIPAA guidelines? Have you considered that perhaps Dr. Webster is taking the high road by not arguing publically with a patient and their family? In the face of your accusations, I’d say that these attributes are honorable and respectful to Mr. Bosley and his family; not indifferent or apathetic.
I would love to see Gupta do a story on the “Pharmacy Crawl” that is occurring daily in the states of Florida and Kentucky where legitimate pain patients are unable to find a pharmacy that is willing to fill their prescriptions, a problem that is occurring because previously, politicians and law-makers turned a blind eye to corruption in “pill mills” and now they want to look like the heroes by bringing down an ax all at once.
Gupta stated, “Someone dies every 19 minutes from a prescription drug overdose and most of these deaths involve painkillers”. How about telling the audience that more deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined? 1,2
Your followers might be interested in “Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses. About one-half of prescription painkiller deaths involve at least one other drug, including benzodiazepines, cocaine, and heroin. Alcohol is also involved in many overdose deaths.3 In 2010, 2 million people reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically for the first time within the last year—nearly 5,500 a day.4
Isolated Police State politics and narrow-minded, draconian policy changes, across more and more states, is not the answer, but nevertheless are fueled by stories like yours. Telling the whole truth is less sexy media, may be limited by space constraints, and calls less attention to your followers.
I would be delighted to interview with Dr. Gupta on behalf of PROMPT so that he could better understand the lack of education for safe opioid use among various prescribers and pharmacists. But, any of the available coverage has heretofore blocked any of my attempts at a posted comment…is this fair journalism? Again, shame on you! The problem with opioid deaths is not Dr. Webster or any particular clinician. It involves the lack of a single acceptable opioid-equivalence schematic (which is not possible due to patient variabilities and polymorphism); safe opioid conversions; use of several validated risk stratification tools prior to initiating chronic opioids; urine drug screens and knowing how to accurately interpret them; drug interactions; third party insurance providers refusal to pay for more expensive safer drugs and alternative therapy including behavior health; and many other factors.
Dr. Gupta playfully calls Dr. Lynn Webster, “Dr. Death” as coined by the decedent’s husband. Perhaps Dr. Gupta, you are “Dr. Death” since stories like these scare away good clinicians from treating legitimate pain patients, many of whom choose suicide over pain. If you want to speak about some of these issues, I invite you to contact me, as my attempts to reach you have been fruitless.
I encourage comments from equally enraged pain clinicians and patients that suffer in pain daily to comment herein. Unlike Dr. Gupta and CNN, I also encourage input from those that disagree with my blog comments herein.
To all pain sufferers that are watching this site, all of us from PROMPT wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season, and good fortune for the New Year!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008;57(45):1226–8.
- McGinnis J, Foege WH. Actual Causes of Death in the United States. Journal of American Medical Association 1993;270:2207–12.
- CDC. Warner M, Chen LH, Makuc DM. Increase in fatal poisonings involving opioid analgesics in the United States, 1999-2006.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: volume 1: summary of national findings. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies; 2011.