This story contains a correction
Shasta Community Health Center in Redding has instated new policies to deal with an influx of prescription drug patients.
The new rules are designed to help wean patients off powerful painkillers with as little danger as possible.
Dr. Larry Heard, who works at Shasta Community Health Center, said the supply of painkilling prescription drugs has been constricted in the North State.
“Redding has a death rate, due to drug overdose, that's three times the state average,” said Dr. Heard.
Since 2001, the demand for prescription drug use in Redding has exploded.
“Back then, I might write two prescriptions a month for morphine, and now I write one an hour. We have a waiting list that's months long,” said Dr. Heard. “We saw a big increase. We saw really, really inappropriate amounts of medication from Dr. White and [Cheri Hougland]. We didn't prescribe that much. We try to give the patients enough so that didn't go through withdrawal. I’m sure a lot of them ended up in the emergency room."
Dr. Gregory White, was forced to shut down his pain control practice in Redding after his license was suspended in August of 2013.
Since then, Shasta Community Health Center has been inundated with hundreds of patients looking for painkillers: oxycontin, methadone, vicodin, and others.
It’s not uncommon.
Dr. Heard said 45% of all pills prescribed in Shasta County are for controlled substances.
Under the guidance of Medical Director David Canton, the health center has come up with stringent new guidelines dictating a process to gain a prescription that can take up to 30 days.
Dr. Heard said the new guidelines don’t affect hospice and palliative care.
“Someone has cancer, no problem. Whatever it takes so that they’re not afraid, and that they’re not suffering.”
It’s not just doctors who notice the influx of prescription painkiller patients. Pharmacies have also seen a rise in patients, but luckily, not prescriptions, at least anymore.
Pharmacist Ron Lim said that 16 months ago, the DEA and prescription pill wholesalers collaborated to limit the amount of painkillers available to local pharmacies, and Lim has seen more customers looking for them.
“We're seeing more patients, but not as many prescriptions, the quantities that used to be, the big quantities," Lim said.
This story contains a correction: In the original article Dr. Larry Heard said Cheri Booker was associated with Dr. White. This is incorrect, Cheri Hougland was Dr. White's physician assistant.