ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Dr. Lamar "Chip" Moree runs the Phoebe Pain Management Clinic and has no problem being ranked in the top 10 prescribers in Georgia, and top 1,000 in the nation, prescribing opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl for Medicare and Medicaid patients.
"It is a privilege to take care of patients," said Moree. "And it's an obligation to do it right."
Moree has run the pain clinic at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia since 1981.
His clinic is in the Phoebe Cancer Center, one of the biggest in the region.
The South Georgia region is one of the poorest in the nation, with a high incidence of cancer and serious disease.
Serving only referral patients, Moree treats an estimated 20,000 patients a year, 55-percent of those patients being Medicare, Medicaid, or pro bono.
"In this group of patients, there are not a lot of good options. The final and best option for this group of people is opioid therapy," said Moree.
But, the Georgia Department of Public Health says the opioid crisis is very real, and deadly.
Commissioner J. Patrick O'Neal reports there has been a 117-percent increase in the number of pain medication deaths from 2010 to 2016 in Georgia.
"That is a tragic but horrific increase," said O'Neal. "So I don't think we can bury our heads in the sand. We have got to do something to turn this around."
One step in Georgia is the Department of Public Health's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
Starting July 1st anyone that has the authority to prescribe medicine will have to enter the controlled substances they provide into a state database.
The idea is to monitor and stop duplicate prescribing, doctor shopping, and pill mill doctors.
"From a public health role, we don't want these bad actors to be successful," said O'Neal.
Moree is a strong supporter of the PDMP.
He believes over marketing by pharmaceutical companies to doctors, and Medicare regulations in the mid 90-s helped create the opioid crisis.
"So physicians who were pressured to get a good grade in Medicare under the pain scores, pretty much caved in and gave patients what they wanted in a lot of cases," said Moree.
Now, Georgia and national lawmakers are creating legislation to push back against the deadly epidemic, but Moree urges that the patient not be forgotten.
"We don't want patients that need the care that opioid will provide them to be lost in the backwash," said Moree.
And both doctors say cutting off opioids will not help addicts.
"I don't want an addict patient to then switch to another drug that could be even more deadly than the opioids," said O'Neal.
Moree agrees the war on opioids must have a strategy to treat addicts and keep them from switching to heroin or other street drugs.
The Department Of Public Health says the next step after the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is required in Georgia, is to work with other states to prevent addicts crossing state lines to doctor shop.