PAINKILLER LAW BLOG: Opioid Rx’ing Not Going Anywhere

A story just published by CNBC says Americans consume 80% of the world’s opioid prescriptions.  300 million prescriptions annually equals a $24 billion market for pharmaceutical companies, says the network.  The story also says that most other opioid consumption is in Canada and Western Europe.  This means that prescription painkillers, and the problems high prescribing rates have caused, are here to stay.

From the perspective of the person who needs these powerful medications to relieve chronic pain, the thriving prescription painkiller market is a welcome companion in daily life.  For pain patients, there sometimes is no reasonably or readily available alternative.  From the perspective of public health officials and policymakers, the size and resilience of the prescription painkiller market is a big and ongoing problem.

Caught in the middle, as they’ve been for years, are doctors who prescribe or are asked to prescribe opioid painkillers and similar narcotics.  How is a doctor supposed to know what to do for which patient, for how long, under what circumstances, for what reason, and with what qualifications and exceptions?  The answer lies in the law, more than it does in medicine.  That is to say, today law enforcement views medical judgment through the prism of legal tests.  A doctor’s medical judgment has to pass the legal test, for the doctor to remain out of criminal trouble, and remain safe from his or her Medical Board.  All the medical training, all the CME in the world won’t teach a physician about the law he or she must know.

There’s so much more to legal compliance in this area than reading and trying to follow a particular state’s prescribing guidelines.  The guidelines are just the beginning of the analysis, and many doctors haven’t even read the prescribing guidelines.  It is unfortunate that so many doctors are so overloaded with work, business affairs, trying to keep up with the data, and dealing with tons of bureaucratic paperwork and hassle just to get paid, that this critical area of physician training is going unattended.  It needn’t be this way.  There is a proven model for teaching doctors how to prescribe safely and legally.  This not only helps the physician, but it helps the patient, and it helps companies in the physician support business — malpractice insurance carriers, for example.

With the opioid market not about to pack up and leave town, doctors and those who support them need to know the law of narcotics prescribing, and be trained and assisted in achieving and maintaining full compliance.  The alternative, as we see from headlines every day, is the risk of physician criminal prosecution.

Meister Law Offices – founder of PAINKILLER LAW: Compliance and Defense for Healthcare Professionals.  213 293 3737.


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