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Keeping healthcare providers safe amidst opioid crisis

GRANGER, Ind. -- It's been two days since Dr. Todd Graham was shot and killed outside of the St. Joseph Rehabilitation Institute. Investigators say, Dr. Graham was shot after denying the suspect's wife pain pills.

That shooting is now shedding light on a problem pain doctors say, is plaguing their profession.

ABC57 News is working for you, talking to doctors who also deal with opioid prescriptions, and the safety hazards that come with the job.

Both doctors ABC57 News spoke with, knew Dr. Graham.

They both say something needs to change. 

"A very good physician was horrifically killed because of this crisis," says Dr. Amer Kazi, a neurologist who specializes in interventional pain management.  "It's a very difficult scenario to deal with."

It's a crisis that kills not only some of those who use, but also those who treat and prescribe. 

Dr. Kazi, like so many other doctors, are on the front lines of the opioid crisis. 

"It's an everyday struggle. I feel very strongly about it that when people have this pain, we need to control this pain. But at this same time, we do not want them to get addicted to the drugs," says Dr. Kazi.

Deciding whether or not to prescribe, is a decision they don't take lightly.  

They know it could put their safety at risk. 

"It does [scare me] in many ways. However, this is the world we live in," adds Dr. Kazi. "If we need help, then yes, we do call the police."

He says he's had to call the police several times, due to patients getting frustrated after getting denied prescriptions.

But there isn't much they can do about it.

"I think with the nature of patients with chronic pain and suffering they may have, you can sometimes have a patient who does become belligerent," says Dr. Steven Stanos.  

Dr. Stanos is the President of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.  

He says aggravated patients are not uncommon.

The only thing he says they can do, is educate and help teach health care providers to look for alternative ways to treat a patient. 

It's also advised to limit prescriptions written. 

"The crisis has made it even more important, because we want to continue to prescribe medications to patients who are working for them," explains Dr. Stanos. "Versus under treating pain for patients, and also still understanding the societal risks."

That still leaves health care providers largely unprotected, with no real solution.

"By having this kind of situation where we have to be protective or paranoid, I'm not sure how it will solve the problem,"says Dr. Kazi. 

"It's a challenge because patients, clinicians, and staff members are vulnerable in these clinics, where there are no police or any type of protection," adds Dr. Stanos. 

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