Dr. Naga Thota considers it a challenge to care for patients in chronic pain, including those who have become addicted to the drugs that relieve their pain.
He says he’s the chosen one, to be taking care of such patients.
According to a Times review of coroners’ records, a minimum of 15 people have died since 2005, due to overdoses of the drugs Thota prescribed them.
Thota was not surprised when he saw the findings. He, in fact said that the no. of deaths might be even higher, as he suspects that some patients even go on to sell the drugs he prescribes, on the streets of San Diego. He said that it is common for federal agents to visit his office to review details of patients they suspect of dealing drugs.
He said that somebody has to take care of these people’s pain and he is supposedly that person. No one can depict how many deaths happen with the drugs sold further in the city, he said.
He said he makes it mandatory for patients on narcotics to submit regular urine tests and if someone’s exams come negative, it means they are selling drugs. He dismisses several patients who fall in that case.
When he comes to know of a patient who died of overdose, he and his staff review the case thoroughly to see if they could have handled the case differently, he said. Thota himself admitted that prescribing painkillers is a very risky job and he bluntly informs his patient about the risks. He also tells them that this medication might even kill them someday, so they should remain careful.
Thota, 58 years of age, grew up in a poor household in eastern India. He studied in a medical school and became a neurosurgeon. He later immigrated to the U.S. and did his fellowship in pain management at the Cleveland Clinic. He also has the board certification in anesthesiology.
He said he wanted to pursue pain management as he had seen his grandfather writhe in pain in a hospital in India, when he fractured a hip. Doctors didn’t use to give morphine to the man with the fear of addiction.
Thota said that there was a time when he made $1 million a year from his practice and had a standard, luxury life. Then insurers began paying very less to the doctors to treat patients. The level of monitoring that was required to prevent patients from abusing drugs was no longer feasible because of that, Thota said.
He said that he once used to see high-risk patients twice or thrice in a month, but insurance cutbacks made that nearly impossible. He once worked closely with a psychologist, a physical therapist, and an addictionologist but then he couldn’t continue the same. He also had to sell his previous house and move in a smaller one.
Thota said that he had been forced to provide a third world level of care. The health insurers worked in a similar way like in the situation where airbags and seat belts are removed from a car. What is left to safeguard lives then? The deaths are bound to happen, he said.