Editor’s Note: WHNT News 19 received a letter from an attorney representing Dr. Welker pointing out alleged issues in our reporting the following story. In reviewing the claims, we have updated this story to clarify that Dr. Welker’s certificate to prescribe certain medications has been suspended pending a hearing and have changed the initial story headline. We also removed a sentence that stated Welker “is not practicing medicine now.”
MADISON, Ala. – Another North Alabama doctor is in trouble, accused of over prescribing opioid pain killers and other controlled substances. Dr. Weston James Welker’s Alabama Controlled Substances Certificate is suspended pending a hearing — scheduled for this fall. We checked and found where many of his patients are going.
To fully understand the story, we have to take you back to February this year, when Dr. Matt Murphy closed his medical practice in Madison and Decatur. Murphy was one of the nation’s leading prescribers of such drugs as oxycontin, oxycodone, Xanax, and hydrocodone. In fact, in 2014, he was the nation’s leading prescriber of oxycodone.
He moved his practice to Tennessee, leaving hundreds of patients scrambling to find another physician willing to write the prescriptions they needed, or wanted. We learned many of his patients wound up at Family Med Care in Hampton Cove. They also operate under the name Regional Spine and Wrist Center.
Dr. Weston Welker is one of the two physicians at the facility. The Alabama Board of Medical Examiners has suspended his privilege to prescribe certain medications pending a hearing in September. The ABME says Dr. Welker dispensed controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose. They also claim he was practicing specialized pain management without the proper training or credentials to do so. The ABME claims there was an imminent threat to the health and safety of the public if his controlled substances certificate was not immediately suspended.
We visited the Family Med Center Friday afternoon, but the office was closed and the door locked. A caller from the facility told us the practice is still open and that Dr. Rodney Rothstein is seeing patients.
We found at least some of Welker’s patients were coming to Madison Medical Associates. They have come up with a rather innovative method of pain management that should be of interest to anyone living with pain.
When chronic pain sufferers learn yet another physician is being investigated for possibly over prescribing pain medications, it causes them panic. Many find themselves looking for a new doctor every few months willing to prescribe the pain medications they need to lead an active life.
“I have been working in pain management in this area for 20 years, so these are my people,” says nurse practitioner Jennifer Durham. She works at Madison Medical Associates and they have seen a sudden rush of new patients coming in the door recently. No one is turned away. But, they say don’t come in expecting just a handful of new prescriptions.
“This is not the type of clinic where you just come and pick up your prescriptions and we’ll see you in a month,” Durham says.
Dr. John Kaliszak says there are a number of disciplines put to use, all designed to control pain while comfortably tapering back on the use of opioids. That’s a hard sell for someone who has relied on these hard core pain medications in order to lead an active lifestyle.
“Once they start to do it, though, they realize their quality of life improves and often times their pain level actually improves as the opiate dose goes down. That’s hard to get some patients to believe that’s going to happen but it does,” Durham says.
As efforts to crack down on the abuse of opioid drugs continue, chronic pain sufferers will tell you they’ve been thrown under the bus and left with fewer options for the control of their pain. Dr. Kaliszak says some people will always need pain medication, but many will find there are other options. He insists there is much more to pain management than simply writing prescriptions. He has invited us back to meet with some of his patients as they explore various treatment options. We’ll let you know what we find.
Alabama has one of the nation’s highest rates of opioid prescriptions per person, one of the nation’s highest rates of opioid overdose and death by overdose. The Centers for Disease Control refers to the opioid crisis as an epidemic.