(RNN) - The national investigation of doctors’ roles in the opioid crisis was built on a foundation of public data and documents.
Raycom Media downloaded the most recent Medicare Part D data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid on prescriptions written by providers between 2013 and 2015.
The Part D data provides summary data of providers’ prescriptions. The data does not include individual patient information.
Raycom combined all the drugs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid labeled as opioids to analyze providers’ prescribing habits. Each prescriber is identified by his or her name and a unique code.
Overall, more than 618,500 doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other health care providers wrote nearly 238 million opioid prescriptions during that three-year span.
Raycom focused its investigation on the top 1,000 prescribers based on the number of prescriptions they had written.
Accessing public, online medical license verifications, Raycom also looked up every prescriber in each state where he or she was licensed to practice medicine or nursing.
Those online lookups provided details on the current status of the providers’ licenses and any disciplinary sanctions by state regulators.
One prescriber could not be found in the state licensing data.
In Louisiana, two doctors were suspended from practice for unknown reasons. The state medical board refused to release the complaint it filed against Drs. Carolyn Smith and Jacques Whitecloud.
Other data used in the project included opioid prescribing rates between 2013 and 2016 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and opioid overdose deaths from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of CDC and National Center for Health Statistics records.
In addition, Raycom used PACER, the federal courts’ online record service, to find providers who have faced criminal charges for health care fraud, dispensing controlled substances or other issues related to excessive opioid prescribing.
Raycom tracked the licensing, sanctions and indictments in an Excel spreadsheet.
Every prescriber in the top 1,000 was sent a letter notifying them of their Medicare D opioid claims on record. They were given an opportunity to respond or challenge Raycom’s findings.
Raycom also downloaded public data on pharmaceutical company payments to doctors from 2013 to 2016, analyzing payments by the Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics, maker of the pain drug Subsys, a spray form of the opioid fentanyl.
A letter was sent by FedEx to each of the highest 20 medical provider recipients of Insys payments, notifying them that their names, Insys payments and Subsys prescription charges to Medicare would appear in a news story. They were invited to comment or challenge the findings.
Raycom also sent letters overnight to prescribers who were heavily featured in broadcast, print or digital stories asking for them to comment.
The investigation took more than three months.
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