MAG president responds to AJC article on opioid abuse

Medical Association of Georgia President Frank McDonald, M.D., M.B.A., submitted the following letter to the editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, December 4…

It is unfortunate that the ‘Healers or Dealers’ article that Carrie Teegardin wrote that appeared in the December 3 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution painted the medical profession with one broad brush.

If one looks at any profession across the entire country over an extended period, they will identify “some” individuals who have engaged in illegal or unethical activity. But the physicians I interact with on a regular basis fulfill their professional oath with excellence and compassion.

It is also worth noting that organized medicine in Georgia has been taking steps to reduce prescription drug abuse for some time now. For example, the Medical Association of Georgia Foundation has funded the ‘Think About It’ campaign to highlight the dangers associated with prescription drug abuse and to promote good prescribing practices since 2011. And with the support of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Foundation, the MAG Foundation has funded more than 5,000 doses of naloxone for first responders in 52 counties in the state through ‘Project DAN’ – saving at least 60 lives. Meanwhile, the Medical Association of Georgia has been busy encouraging physicians in the state to register for the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. These are just several examples of the steps that our profession has taken.

Note, too, that the article failed to adequately recognize the legitimate and crucial role that prescription drugs play to help patients who are in pain. It also did not mention that health insurance companies often use the prior authorization process to limit the medicine or therapy (i.e., non-opioid care) they will cover to control costs – which is a huge part of the prescription drug abuse equation. And while we can all agree that we have a lot of work to do, it is important to point out that we are making progress – as the American Medical Association reports that, “Every state in the nation saw a reduction in opioid prescribing in 2015 – an overall 10.6 percent decrease nationally.”

This is all important context that could have been reflected in the article had the reporter reached out to MAG, which represents nearly 8,000 physicians in the state. It is a shame that the AJC chose to portray the medical profession in such a negative way without more balance or context, but the physicians I know will nevertheless remain focused on solving the prescription drug abuse problem and providing the best patient care.

Frank McDonald, M.D.
President, Medical Association of Georgia