The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

May 31, 2010

Texas monitoring prescriptions of drug combo


Associated Press

— HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas Department of Public Safety tracking system shows that Harris County doctors rank first in writing prescriptions for three highly addictive drugs that officials say give users a “heroin high” when taken together.

The Houston Chronicle reports that over a 15-month period ending in March, one Houston doctor wrote more than 43,000 prescriptions for the drugs. That doctor is one of six in Harris County topping the list of those writing the most prescriptions in Texas for the ingredients for the potent drug cocktail. Authorities have withheld the doctors’ names.

DPS records show the top six doctors had each written between 23,907 and 43,383 prescriptions for the three drugs during that 15-month period.

After a new state monitoring law took effect 20 months ago, pharmacies were required to report to the state all prescriptions that doctors write for those controlled substances.

Investigators are using those records to look at pain management clinics writing frequent prescriptions for the cocktail.

Dr. C.M. Schade, a former president of the Texas Pain Society, said he knows of no legitimate medical reason for a doctor to prescribe all three together.

“It’s a red flag that can be seen across the country,” he told the newspaper.

The three drugs include: hydrocodone, a narcotic known by brand names like Vicodin; alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug known as Xanax; and carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

Authorities say that in Houston, customers can often be seen lining up around the block at such clinics.

“Sometimes they hire security officers to handle the crowd. I’m not kidding,” said Schade, who said such clinics can easily earn $1 million to $3 million a year.

Louisiana adopted stringent laws between 2007 and 2009 to regulate and monitor pain clinics there.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Wendell Campbell said that’s when Louisiana customers, many times by the van load, started coming into Texas for the drugs.

Records show customers are also coming from states including Arkansas and Mississippi.

“You can find one of these pain clinics in a strip center in five minutes,” said Tommy Hastings, a Houston attorney representing the families of four people who died of drug overdoses after going to Houston area pain clinics.

Since Texas began monitoring prescriptions, five Houston doctors have been accused of conspiring to illegally distribute controlled substances at a dozen area clinics.

One of them, Dr. Christina Clardy, had dispensed more than 3.5 million tablets of Vicodin, Xanax and Soma in one year.

Investigators allege that Clardy was paid thousands of dollars a month for pre-signed prescription pads used by operators of two clinics. Both clinics where she served as medical director — one in Humble, the other in Houston — have since been shut down.

Clardy’s attorney, Chris Downey, told the newspaper she looks forward to proving her innocence.

Schade said that he believes a new state law taking effect in September will help cut down on the pain clinics that are churning out prescriptions for the drugs.

The law will require that clinics be certified by the Texas Medical Board if 50 percent of their patients get prescriptions for controlled substances. It also requires the clinics to be owned by a Texas doctor who must be on the premises for at least a third of the facility’s operating hours.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com