Whitesburg KY

Healthcare workers looking for answers after doctor’s murder


A prescription drug abuse forum held Monday in Pikeville took a unique approach to discussing the region’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, and organizers said the approach will help to quell the problem.

About 30 people attended the forum at Pikeville Medical Center, where organizers welcomed public comments about prescription drug abuse. Healthcare provider safety was a major issue at the forum and one of the participants had a particularly emotional connection to the subject.

Danielle Sandlin fought back tears during the entire two-hour event while taking several opportunities to talk about how healthcare providers are at risk when dealing with patients that may be addicted to prescription drugs. Sandlin’s father, Dr. Dennis Sandlin, was murdered in December at a Perry County clinic after he allegedly denied a patient prescription pain pills, and Danielle Sandlin wants things to change.

“I don’t want this to be a witch hunt against the people that are abusing drugs or are addicted to drugs,” she said. “I still want them to get the help they need but I also want the (healthcare providers) to be safe.”

Participants at the forum took the opportunity to address a panel of individuals from several agencies in Kentucky, including the Kentucky State Police and Operation U.N.I.T.E. The common theme of the event, however, was that agencies need to work together to solve the prescription drug abuse problem and healthcare providers should not tolerate aggressive behavior from patients seeking pain medication.

“What should healthcare providers put up with as far as aggressive behavior? Ripping up prescriptions is not acceptable anymore,” said Dr. Stephen Spady, D.O., who is a drug task force facilitator. “That kind of aggressive behavior can’t be tolerated anymore.”

KSP Sgt. Alan Lane said any aggressive behavior is unacceptable now, following the death of Dr. Sandlin.

“There’s no level of acceptable behavior with acts of aggression,” Lane said. “Doctors and providers should call the police and let us do our job.”

Danielle Sandlin said more information made available to providers would help to improve safety in doctors’ offices. Sandlin suggested doctors should be able to access a patient’s criminal history and have the option to refuse treatment of a patient having a history of drug charges.

Dan Smoot, director of law enforcement for Operation U.N.I.T.E, said providers would be at an advantage to have more information provided to them.

Dr. Spady suggested a threestrike system in dealing with aggression, but Sandlin said after her father refused to give pain medicine to his suspected killer on his first visit to the clinic, the man allegedly returned a second time and killed Sandlin.

Others in the audience suggested options which included forced intervention tactics, such as using Casey’s Law, which allows family members to petition courts for help in dealing with a family member’s drug abuse. Others suggested a more aggressive approach to reaching children at a younger age. Smoot said the average age of children who begin abusing drugs is 11 years old.

Spady said all of the suggestions received at the forums are constructive in the fight against drugs.

“All of this is all about provider safety,” said Spady. He said the goals for the forums are realistic and are not aimed at solving the drug problem as a whole.

“Our job is to find one thing that will make things happen,” Spady said. “We need to know where to attack addiction first and that is the purpose of the forums — to gather ideas.”

The forums were organized by Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. The forum in Pikeville was the second in a series of five forums, which will conclude in Hazard in March. Mongiardo did not attend the forum in Pikeville due to a scheduling conflict, according to a representative.

Mountain Eagle contributing
photographer Chris Anderson also
works as a reporter for the Appalachian

News-Express in Pikeville,
where this report originated.

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