By Lisa Shrewsberry
When several stories published last winter in The Register-Herald highlighted the claims of newly opened pain management clinics in Beckley, Dr. Hassan Amjad felt like he was reading a succession of advertisements. And in a way, he was right. Two businesses admitting narcotics would play chief roles in their treatment, opening within days and 3 miles of each other, both pledging to practice responsibly and weed out drug seekers with one hand, cutting their respective ribbons with the other.
Amjad believes he has a better pledge — to stop prescribing the primary offender altogether.
“We are asking other physicians to say, ‘Yes, we see the problem, we see young people dying. We should do everything we can to stop it. We will not write these medications,’” he says.
Amjad has launched, along with Dr. Hassan Jafary and concerned citizen Leonard Clay, West Virginia Advocacy Group Inc., a 501c3-designated organization to help curtail the escalating problem of prescription drug abuse within Raleigh County and surrounding communities by gaining refusals to prescribe the addicting compounds.
The first tactic employed by the group is a no-nonsense pledge for physicians and physician assistants to sign, abdicating the movement of oxycodone and Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen) from their practices.
“I do hereby pledge that no prescriptions for oxycodone will be written by me for any patient,” reads line one. Volunteers will actively circulate the gentlemen’s agreement among Raleigh County physicians, and Amjad and Jafary are displaying it in their own practices.
Amjad, who specializes in oncology, says only certain patients with terminal illnesses should require Oxycontin and its various formulations, and that the loose practices of physicians in prescribing the medications for patients with benign conditions such as arthritis or back pain are contributing directly to the drug problem in southern West Virginia.
“There are patients who had foot surgery 10 years ago and are still getting these pills,” Amjad maintains. “Even as an oncologist, I am saying there is very little need for oxycodone and Percocet in treating patients.”
While the second line of his pledge acknowledges the presence of pain clinics available to appropriately treat with Schedule IV medications, Amjad is skeptical if those in southern West Virginia are any better than the “sham” operations in Florida doling out stock bottles of prescription painkillers for cash.
“Ask them how many of their patients have died as a result of overdose,” prompts Hassan, referring again to local clinics. He says as he scans the newspaper obituaries, he regularly spots images of young people between the ages of 18 and 35. He believes many, if not most, of them are there as a result of accidental overdose of prescription narcotics, chiefly those who have combined them with Xanax, a popular, easily accessible anti-anxiety prescription that goes for $4 to $6 per pill on the streets. The odds of deadly drug interactions are also increased significantly by the consumption of alcohol.
“It’s a ‘soft porn’ way of giving drugs,” Amjad says. “There is no way that a patient without a terminal illness needs these medications. You can see people in doctors’ and pharmacy parking lots coming out with prescriptions and selling them right there. If you are going to be socially responsible as a prescriber, then why not come forward and sign this pledge?”
Amjad is leaving it up to the physicians who sign on to promote their abstinence. He hopes people will see which physicians have autographed the pledge and that it will make a difference for the right reasons.
“If we have a little less business because we refuse to prescribe these medications, then to heck with it,” he says. “We are saving lives.”