Health: Prescription Pain Killer Epidemic, Pervasive In Local Suburbs
By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic, and especially bad in Pennsylvania. Authorities say it’s striking a growing number of families in the suburbs. Part of the problem is doctors accused of being dealers. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more.
Dr. Richard Ruth’s lawyer tried to keep us away from the family physician who’s been called a drug kingpin. He’s accused of flooding the streets with hundreds of thousands of prescription pain killers, like Oxycodone.
“The doctors are well known in that world,” said a recovering addict, who wants to remain anonymous. To supply her habit, that started with Percocet, she didn’t go to Dr. Ruth, but there were plenty of others.
“It’s very easy. You could go from doctor to doctor. It ruined my life. Oh my god. It totally ruined my life,” said the recovering addict.
Another life ruined by drugs, Justina McIntyre’s 19-year-old son Ronnie Powell, a star athlete in Souderton, died from an overdose.
“He became addicted to painkillers. He started with Vicodin. He would also use Xanax, and a lot of other prescription pills,” said Justina.
He’s not alone. Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse and overdoses in the country.
The problem has led to an increase in robberies at pharmacies, where any of us could get caught in the cross fire.
On the streets, one Oxy can be sold for around 80 dollars.
Authorities say Dr. Ruth knew he was fueling deadly habits, that led to overdoses.
Stephanie asked Dr. Ruth on his way out of court, “Do you have any comment on the charges?”
Dr. Ruth, who operated out of a house in Montgomery county, is charged with dozens of felonies including fraud, prescribing in bad faith, and criminal conspiracy.
Stephanie asked on his way out of court, “Did you prescribe pain killers to addicts?”
His lawyer replied, “No comment.”
Stephanie then asked, “Did you get people addicted to pain killers for profit?”
Experts say most doctors are not like what Dr. Ruth is accused of being. They don’t realize they’re being used. People lie about pain to get a prescription.
“You just make stuff up. You use different pharmacies, so the pharmacy doesn’t catch on that you’re filling the same scripts from different doctors,” said the recovering addict.
It’s harder to do that in some states because of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, where information about patients and drugs is shared. But in Pennsylvania, only law enforcement officials have access to the information.
“One in four families in Pennsylvania have a loved one that’s affected by an addiction,” said Gene DiGirolamo, State Representative of Bucks county. It’s even hit home, his son is a recovered drug addict.
DiGirolamo has proposed legislation to create a drug database for doctors and pharmacists.
“The doctor, if he has a suspicion, will then be able to go on his computer into the database enter the person’s name, and he’ll be able to see if this person has been doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping,” said DiGirolamo.
Justina says there’s a desperate need for change, even though it’ll be too late for her son.
“He was a hero in a lot of boys eyes, and unfortunately he made a bad choice,” said Justina.
Ronnie’s mother has created an organization in her son’s memory to warn others about prescription drug abuse.
There’s no connection between Ronnie and Dr. Ruth, who has plead not guilty in his case. No trial date has been set. His license has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the trial.
And for people struggling with addiction and their families, free help is available.