Yet more evidence has emerged that long-acting extended release opioids for chronic pain should never have been marketed as safe, effective and generally non-addictive. To avoid criminal liability, malpractice suits or Medical Board actions, medical providers who prescribe opioids for their patients have to change with the changing science. To ignore the changing science – major developments emerge pretty much weekly now – is to risk imperiling patients with outdated information, and to consequently put your liberty and livelihood in great danger. If you’re out of the loop on information that could save your patients’ lives, when you had the chance to come up to speed and you ignored or passed on the opportunity, imagine how easy you’ll have made it for the DEA, or your licensing board, to nab you. I’ve said this before, and I say it again because there’s more important news to share about this.
Here’s what we know so far:
-The Centers for Disease Control believe that too many doctors are prescribing too many opioids to too many patients;
-The AMA concurs, to the great disappointment of pharmaceutical manufacturers;
-The FDA has ordered new labeling for long-acting extended release opioids to better warn providers and patients of the dangers of addiction and abuse;
-Johns Hopkins Medical School has concluded that even though opioid prescriptions have skyrocketed, fewer patients are actually experiencing pain relief.
And now, Exhibit 5: The National Pain Report on September 23, 2013 says that “a drug increasingly being used to treat opioid addiction may be fueling a new epidemic of diversion, overdose, addiction and death in the U.S.” The article talks about buprenorphine, known by its brand name, Suboxone, and how it is not only being prescribed by some doctors who don’t know what they’re doing, but that it’s also being sold on the street by heroin dealers because it reportedly softens any withdrawal symptoms between doses or highs.
And still, pharmaceutical manufacturers would have patients and physicians believe that the problem is not with the drugs themselves. Instead we see the same old acronyms like “the 5 R’s, or “S.A.F.E. N.A.R.C.” or other catchy phrases that do what they can, but which ultimately miss the point, in favor of the idea that the patient and the doctor can be in complete control in any prescribing or treatment scenario. Patients and doctors can’t be, because the drugs are too powerful. The nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic and the weekly scientific bombshells prove this.
So what to do, if you are a medical provider? First, if you’re not in pain management, don’t get into it unless you are Board certified and fully trained by a body other than a self-interested, profit-motivated provider advocacy group. Such groups will sell you on taking the easy way, and that will ultimately disserve your patients and you. Second, if you already have a pain management practice, read and incorporate all the new scientific data into your practice without delay, so that you can show any law enforcement investigators that when the science changed, you changed with it. And third, even though the current assessment, treatment, monitoring and other compliance/patient safety tools are valid and should continue to be utilized, know that they’re increasingly being revealed as inadequate. They are no match for the immense power of the drugs they seek to keep in check. So relying on them alone will, as the science continues to advance, leave you high and dry when it comes to defending yourself against criminal, malpractice, or Medical Board scrutiny.
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