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Contraindications: Dr. Barbara Philipp

Contraindications: Dr. Barbara Philipp

Picture of William Heisel

Even the most curious of Dr. Barbara Philipp's patients probably didn't notice that she had a drug problem.

That's because her patients were kids.

The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine wrote in its disciplinary report that the 55-year-old Boston pediatrician wrote fake prescriptions for family members and friends just to get painkillers and sleeping pills for herself.

After 20 years of helping sick kids get better, Philipp, who practices at Boston Medical Center, hurt her back in October 2002 and was on medical leave for the better part of two years. She was prescribed a painkiller (Vicodin), a sedative (Valium) and a sleep aid (Ambien). That wasn't enough, apparently. She also wrote 11 prescriptions for her husband with the intention of getting moreValium and Ambien for herself.

Then doctors put her on Tramadol, Ambien, and Percocet. Again, she wanted more. She wrote prescriptions for herself using friends' names, her daughter's name and her husband's name. In September 2004, she took a risk. She asked a fellow doctor to sign a blank prescription for a family member. Instead, she wrote the prescription for herself, ordering up 60 Percocet.

For more than six years, none of this caught up with her.

In February 2009, however, the medical board put her on probation. She acknowledged all the allegations against her and agreed to have her practice monitored. She also was ordered to send a certified letter to nearly every medical entity to which she had a connection telling them about her discipline. Insurers, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, HMOs, state licensing boards, the DEA even "any in- or out-of-state medical employer, whether or not she practices medicine there."

There is one big exception to notification, though -her patients.

None of the kids or their parents will know when they enter their doctor's office that she has a drug problem. That she has been suffering from pain - or addiction - she finds so powerful that she needed to break the rules to get more drugs.

On restaurants in LA, you can quickly decide whether a place is safe by looking at the letter grade posted by the county health department by the front door. With doctors, you don't have that courtesy.

Do we really care more about the people lined up to buy fish tacos than we do about the kids with infections, injuries and chronic illnesses sitting in the waiting room, their parents blindly assuming that someone like Dr. Philipp is thinking clearly enough to make the right decisions about their care?

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