By Ed Silverman
March 7th, 2012

Two years ago, US Senator Chuck Grassley asked all 50 states to provide data on doctors who wrote huge numbers of prescriptions for specific drugs that are paid for by Medicaid programs. The move was prompted by reports indicating certain meds – notably, several widely used antipsychotics, as well as the OxyContin painkiller and Xanax anxiety pill – have been prescribed at particularly high rates.

The reason for the inquiry was to determine whether the drugs are overprescribed and, consequently, costing taxpayers unnecessarily. The effort was also part of a wide-ranging probe that Grassley has pursued over the last few years into the financial relationships between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry over concerns that such ties may unduly influence medical research and practice.

Some states, however, initially refused to comply with all or some of the requests for information. Most did respond, although Grassley asked for detailed follow-up data, such as what was done about high prescribers and their financial ties to drugmakers. Recently, Minnesota not only agreed to provide that info, but also took action against some physicians.

The state revealed that two physicians were reported to the Board of Medical Practice for disciplinary action in connection with inappropriate prescribing. And still more doctors are expected to be reported, according to a letter sent to Grassley by Minnesota Medicaid director David Godfrey. He added that the state is also creating a consult service to discourage docs from issuing questionable prescriptions of antipsychotics and other meds to children.

“We share your concern about overprescribing and abuse of these drug categories and continue to look for ways to better monitor and control the use of these therapeutically useful, yet extremely dangerous prescription drugs,” he wrote, adding that the state is working on a “a coordinated effort with our managed care plans to identify excessive prescribers”

As the tables at the bottom of the letter also indicate, you can see that numerous physicians wrote hundreds of prescriptions for several antipsychotics – Geodon, Seroquel, Abilify, Zyprexa and Risperdal – as well as OxyContin, Roxicodone and Xanax. The dollar amounts refer to what the state Medicaid program paid for the prescriptions that were written.