Monday, July 05, 2004

The Vice-President's physician.

This week's New Yorker has an article by correspondent Jane Mayer on VP Cheney's physician's battle with addiction. The New York Times and The Washington Post picked up the story in this morning's editions, too. Specifically, the physician who famously declared Cheney fit for office four months before Cheney suffered his fourth heart attack has been battling an addiction to narcotics for nine years. Last month, he was removed as chair of George Washington University Medical Center's Department of General Internal Medicine and from the Veep's health care staff.

Mayer does a good job detailing the extent of the physicians' purchases and, inferentially, his impairment:
According to pharmacy records and customer invoices, in July, 2000, for example, the month that Malakoff wrote the letter certifying Cheney’s good health, he purchased thirty bottles of a synthetic narcotic nasal spray called Stadol from two mail-order drug-supply companies. Stadol, which can be addictive, is ordinarily used to treat migraine headaches. Each bottle contains an estimated fifteen doses. In the previous two months, he had bought eighteen bottles. In August, he bought twenty-eight more bottles. During the two-and-half-year period ending in December, 2001, Malakoff spent at least $46,238 online on Stadol and such medications as Xanax, Tylenol with codeine, and Ambien.
That's 76 bottles (and 1140 doses) in 5 months. The guidelines for prescribing the drug call for 1 dose, followed by another dose in 60-90 minutes if there is no relief from the first dose, followed by additional 2-dose sequences as needed every 3-4 hours, so Cheney's doc's 7.5 doses per day (assuming he consumed all 1140 doses during the five-month period that he placed his orders) are within the prescription guidelines for the drug. Adding Schedule III-IV drugs like Xanax, Tylenol with codeine, and Ambien, however, suggest a serious problem. (It's unclear, though, how much of the other drugs he was taking. At $92 a bottle (from drugstore.com) he would have spent $41,400 on Stadol during the two-and-a-half-year period described in Mayer's article, leaving only about $5,000 for other drug purchases.)

The issue in all this isn't the fall of a presumably talented physician into the clutches of a dastardly affliction, tragic as that is. The questions raised by Mayer's article, explicitly or implicitly, are:
posted by tommayo, 10:11 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter