Prescription opioid abuse is a serious public health issue, and states and the federal government are currently working on addressing the issue in a variety of ways, from increasing physician training on opioid prescription and establishing prescription guidelines to taking stricter disciplinary measures against physicians accused of prescription opioid abuse.
Last year, for instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a set of recommendations for primary care physicians in the prescription of opioids for managing chronic pain. The recommendations address not only when opioids should be prescribed for chronic pain, but also risk assessment and handling patient harm resulting from opioid use. The CDC guideline also makes recommendations for opioid "selection, dosage, duration, follow-up, and discontinuation."
The CDC recommendations for opioid prescription may be helpful for physicians to an extent, but they are voluntary, meaning that physicians still have to their own exercise discretion in prescribing opioids for chronic pain patients. There is, of course, a need for physicians to exercise sound judgment in prescribing opioids, particularly for patients with chronic pain. As significant as the problem of narcotics prescription abuse is, though, it isn't always the case that physicians who are accused of prescription abuse are in the wrong.
There can certainly be valid disagreements between physicians about prescribing opioids, particularly when it comes to managing chronic pain. Some physicians may take a very conservative approach, avoiding the prescription of narcotics whenever possible. Others are more liberal in their approach to narcotics prescription, though without being abusive. Exactly where the line needs to be drawn is not always clear, and this can sometimes result in problems for physicians who are just trying to help their patients.
In our next post, we'll continue looking at this issue, and the importance of working with experienced legal counsel to manage liabilities surrounding opioid prescription.