The good news: Pennsylvania’s live drug monitoring program, in place since 2016 to make it easier for health care professionals and law enforcement personnel to recognize and react to overprescribing doctors, is working.
The bad news: Despite all the warnings, increased awareness and rising body counts, nothing seems to have slowed the opioid crisis.
Late last week, a Valley doctor was charged with prescribing more than 6 million opioids in a little more than five years following an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which led to a 19-count indictment. The Department of Justice says Dr. Raymond Kraynak prescribed more opioids to his patients — more than 2.7 million to 2,800 patients — over the span of 19 months than any other doctor in Pennsylvania. The indictment alleges five patients under Kraynak’s care died from overdoses.
Even for DEA officials and U.S. Attorneys, people accustomed to seeing unbelievable things, these allegations were startling. U.S. Attorney Dave Freed called the volume of pills Kraynak is alleged to have prescribed “staggering.”
“Nine hundred and fifty doses per person,” over the past 19 months, said Gary Tuggle, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia field office of the DEA. “That’s a lot.”
The judicial process will sort out Kraynak’s future. He pleaded not guilty to the charges — including 12 counts of illegal distribution or dispensing, five counts of illegal distribution or dispensing resulting in death and two counts of maintaining a drug-involved premises for his offices in Mount Carmel and Shamokin — and was released Friday on $500,000 bail after forfeiting his DEA card, a move that prohibits him from prescribing controlled substance.
Thursday’s news was both disheartening and revealing. It shows that some of the safety nets Pennsylvania has put into place are identifying outliers. It is depressing to an extent to learn not much has changed in terms of perception. Even with increased awareness of this epidemic over the past two years, this practice continues throughout the nation, even while law enforcement officials called the Valley doctor “rogue.”
The charges came just a day after the Centers for Disease Control announced the life expectancy in the United States dropped for the second year in a row as a result of the opioid and heroin crisis, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives. At a time when medical advances only dreamed of generations ago are a reality, we can’t figure out how to stop people from dying because of pills prescribed by a rogue doctor or addiction.
There are dozens of moving parts to this crisis; the live monitoring program seems to have put a dent in at least one of them. Much attention has been paid so far, yet it is clear there are miles to go.