Dear Mr. Cooley:
I applaud your decision to charge Dr. Hsui-Ying Tseng with the alleged murders of three patients who overdosed on prescription medications she prescribed. It is my hope that Dr. Tseng -- and anyone who recklessly prescribes potentially dangerous and addictive prescription drugs -- will be fully prosecuted to make it absolutely clear that no one is above the law.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug abuse has been on the rise for years and has now reached epidemic levels. More than 12 million Americans reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes in 2010, an increase of 400% over the past decade. More individuals accidentally overdose on prescription drugs than they do on heroin and cocaine combined.
Dr. Tseng, as well as anyone who preys upon vulnerable people's addictions, must be held accountable for their crimes. Suspending a physician's U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration and revoking their state medical board license does not go far enough in cases such as this one. These bad actors must be treated like the drug dealers they are and put behind bars.
One of the young men, Steven Ogle, who overdosed shortly after visiting Dr. Tseng, was from my Congressional district. The mother of yet another victim of Dr. Tseng testified before a hearing I held last April as Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. The stories that I heard about otherwise healthy young people being prescribed prescription drugs without a thorough medical exam and diagnosis was sickening and alarming. Patients go to physicians because they trust them, and they trust that the medications prescribed are safe.
Beyond the human toll of this epidemic, there is also an economic impact on society. A study found that doctor shopping for prescription painkillers cost insurers $72.5 billion in 2007, which includes costs for treatment, emergency room visits, rehabilitation and associated health problems.
Another report that identified doctor shopping in the Medicare Part D program found that 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries, mostly disabled, cost taxpayers $148 million for obtaining dangerous controlled substances from five or more practitioners. This type of fraud reflects patients who fool their physicians into giving them prescription drugs that can easily be abused. However, it also points to physicians, such as Dr. Tseng, who abuse the system to make a quick dollar.
Worst of all, nearly 30,000 Americans are dying each year from drug overdoses largely driven by prescription painkillers and insomnia/anxiety drugs. This equates to about 70 deaths and 3,000 emergency room visits each day. As a nation, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this epidemic, but must instead confront it head-on with a multi-faceted approach.
One of the solutions to this problem is holding irresponsible physicians, who hatch get-rich-quick schemes that result in needless and tragic deaths, accountable for their actions. Putting them in jail serves as a clear signal that such behavior will not be tolerated by our society while helping to keep the integrity and reputation of legitimate physicians in place.
I am happy to serve as a resource for you as combating the prescription drug abuse epidemic is a priority of mine in Congress. Should you have any questions or like information, please reach out to my legislative assistant, Jennifer Conklin, at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-225-5330.
MARY BONO MACK
Member of Congress