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When Dentists Act as Drug Dealers

Kenny Morrison was a top chef at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant, often serving dinner to Hollywood stars. He lived in a beachfront home and generally loved life. But after he became addicted to pain medication after getting dental work in 2003, he lost everything. He began using Vicodin, OxyContin, and codeine to get through the day. At one point, he even had a tooth removed unnecessarily because he needed a prescription for more pain medication.

“At the height, I was taking probably 20, 25 a day,” Morrison told CNN. “It got to the point where I lost the wife, the house, and I was living in a bad part of LA in my truck. And I went from taking a couple of codeine all the way to taking OxyContin.”

Morrison mostly got the drugs from dentists he had never met. He told CNN he would scroll through the phone book calling dentist after dentist until one would prescribe the painkillers he wanted.

“I kind of found out on my own that a dentist will prescribe you painkillers over the phone, rather than a doctor who you would most likely have to go in and see,” he said.

A dentist in the Los Angeles area, Dr. Jay Grossman, told CNN that he gets regular phone calls from people seeking painkillers. “The moment somebody hangs up the phone on me, I know that they’re literally going down the book. They’re calling the next one in the Yellow Pages, hoping that someone would write them a prescription.”

Grossman, who sits on a disciplinary committee for the California Dental Association, says these types of calls usually come at the end of the day. The user describes the pain in his mouth and insists on medication. When Grossman hears the red flags, he begins a series of questions such as how many pills they need. He tries to set up an appointment for the next day so he can see the patient in person. Most people hang up after he grills them.

“I don’t think doctors of any sort—whether it’s a dental profession or one of my medical colleagues—should be doling out prescriptions in that quantity, like M&Ms. That’s not what it’s there for,” Grossman said.

Grossman said the Drug Enforcement Agency has done a good job in the last 12-18 months of cracking down on dentists who may be over-prescribing pain medication
According to the DEA, 38 states have enacted legislation to create a database for physicians and pharmacists to prevent abusers from obtaining multiple prescriptions.

According to Grossman, the DEA notifies dentists and questions them when their prescriptions for painkillers reach high numbers. But he says the disciplinary board needs to be notified that a dentist is acting out of line for that dentist to come before the board, and that a drug abuser typically isn’t going to turn the dentist in.

Grossman said that dentists, doctors, and pharmacists need to be constantly on alert for people trying to obtain painkillers for nonmedical purposes. “Just writing a prescription for the pain is not the answer,” he said. “There’s a moral and ethical code that we have to follow.”

Morrison told CNN he’s been clean for over a year after going through a treatment program. He is now the head chef at the treatment facility that saved him. He’s trying to repair his relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife, and he wants others to avoid the path he took.

“My body craved it, and I lost everything,” Morrison said. “It’s hard to understand how big of a problem this is. My message is that it’s a disease and it needs to be addressed.”

There is still hope.

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