WKYT Investigates: Law enforcement officials express concern about doctors traveling to prescribe Suboxone

Published: Feb. 8, 2016 at 5:39 PM EST
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Law enforcement officials are concerned about Kentucky doctors who travel to different counties and prescribe Suboxone.

Dan Smoot with High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area calls Suboxone the most abused pharmaceutical drug in Eastern Kentucky. Smoot said it typically comes down to money.

"There's no doubt there's a lot of profit in these clinics," he said. "One has to believe when you see doctors travel distances that profit is a motive."

Law enforcement officials have not busted any Suboxone clinics. They say it can be tough to prove in court. But they are aware of the signs and their concerns stem from pain pill clinics that pop up and prescribe drugs to addicts. A problem Kentucky has wrestled with for years.

"We've seen it before," he said, adding that doctors should be following a number of procedures to make sure their patients are getting the treatment they need, such as urine checks and counseling.

Smoot also said there are issues with the regulations to obtain a license to prescribe Suboxone.

"There's no doubt the way the regulations are set up now that both sides can potentially abuse the situation at Suboxone clinics," Smoot said. From the physician's side, Smoot said it's too easy for any doctor to get certified to prescribe Suboxone. It's an eight hour online class to receive a Drug Enforcement Agency waivered license to prescribe Suboxone.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, told WKYT that he is going to look into Suboxone more. He was particularly concerned about whether doctors are meeting the federal and state requirements that need to be met in order to prescribe the drug. He said he would be addressing that in the coming days.

An Investigation into Suboxone led WKYT's Miranda Combs to a London clinic where a Lexington OB/GYN travels at least twice a month to work with patients. Last month, the parking lot for Renew Recovery was filled with cars and patients in the lobby. Combs asked a receptionist to speak to the doctor, but she declined.

According to the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, the doctor -- who WKYT is not naming -- has a medical license that is active and in good standing. Her attorney, Tom Bullock, said she has her DEA license, which allows her to prescribe Suboxone. Smoot told WKYT he has never heard of the London clinic.

The doctor's attorney, Tom Bullock of Lexington, spoke to WKYT on two different occasions. In his most recent interview, he told WKYT that his client's travel has nothing to do with money.

"It would seem to me, just the opposite because you would think you want to have the best clinics and if they have to travel to make that happen, so be it," Bullock said. "I understand that law enforcement, they have a job to do. But so do the physicians and these physicians are trying to do the best they can."

Dr. Mark Jorrisch, president of The Kentucky Society of Addiction Medicine, is among those who says Subxone is an effective way to treat addiction.

"Oh, I love it. So many patients get better," he said of Suboxone.

Jorrisch also said doctors travel to different counties to fill a void; it has more to do with patient's access to treatment.

He said most clinics are cash-only because insurance reimbursements are too low. And, in regard to law enforcement's other rub of minimal training, Jorrisch said he does have concern that doctors may not have the background in substance abuse -- something he's working on fixing on a state level.

"I think law enforcement needs to be secure in the fact that this is happening and good service is being provided," he said. "The access to treatment is really very difficult and there definitely are under served areas in the state of Kentucky."