The United States Surgeon General Addresses Healthcare Professionals’ Obligation To Combat Opioid Abuse

In August of 2016, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., the United States Surgeon General, circulated an impassioned letter to physicians and other healthcare providers in the United States imploring practitioners to work diligently to combat the opioid epidemic endangering our nation. There can be little debate something must be done to stem the tide of overdoses and deaths in our neighborhoods. This problem affects us all because socio-economic status does not limit opioid abuse. Consequently, practitioners must be acutely aware of over-prescribing painkillers and remain vigilant about detecting drug seeking behavior. Failure to do so may lead to claims of unethical prescribing of medication and malpractice allegations. Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger is dedicated to fighting claims made against health care providers for unethical behavior.

Dr. Murthy’s letter succinctly lays out the recent history of the progression of opioid abuse in our country.  In the 1990s, physicians received encouragement to treat patients’ pain with prescription medication aggressively. While the source of information is unclear, Dr. Murthy criticizes drug companies for an extensive and misleading marketing campaign claiming that prescription opioid-based narcotics were not habit forming.  Data reveals that physicians’ efforts to treat their patients’ pain with prescriptions were unsuccessful. Since 1999, opioid-related deaths have quadrupled, and the number of prescriptions for painkillers has risen concurrently. Regrettably, physicians’ attempts to reduce or eliminate pain have failed. Americans statistically report the same amount of chronic pain today as twenty years ago. Dr. Murthy states that 2 million people in the United States suffer from opioid addiction disorder. The rise in this number causes an attendant increase in heroin abuse, HIV, and hepatitis C infections among intravenous drug users.

Dr. Murthy writes that solving the problem is not easy but argues that physicians and healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to reverse opium’s grip on our society. Combating the problem, Dr. Murthy opines, begins with clinicians balancing treatment for the patients’ pain with the prospect that any patient can become addicted.  Dr. Murthy divined a three-part plan to treat pain effectively while preventing or deterring addiction.  First, healthcare providers must educate themselves on opiate addiction as it relates to prescription narcotics and methodologies for treating pain. Secondly, medical practitioners must screen their patients for opiate addiction and refer them to appropriate treatment plans. Lastly, Dr. Murthy advocates treating opiate addiction as a medical problem like a chronic illness rather than a moral failing on behalf of the affected individual.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a pamphlet designed to educate practitioners as to the best practices for treating pain, detecting drug-seeking behavior, and options for patients exhibiting symptoms of opioid use disorder. Dr. Murthy suggested that healthcare professionals avail themselves of the CDC’s reference materials to assist clinicians with prescription issues, both long and short term, and treatment options. The CDC recommends treating acute pain with opioid-based medicine for a course of three days, but no longer than seven days. The real balancing act enters the equation when patients are claiming they suffer from chronic rather than acute pain. Physicians must counsel their patients that long-term painkilling medication is not effective to treat the symptoms and can lead to addiction. Dosing also requires the physician to analyze the patient’s prognosis carefully. The doctor should prescribe the lowest dose and avoid contemporaneous prescriptions of benzodiazepines while a patient is taking opiates for pain.

For More Information, Contact the Sanger Law Office today

If you are a healthcare professional in Kansas or Missouri and are facing professional discipline, rely on Missouri Professional Licensing Defense Attorney Danielle Sanger to vigorously and aggressively defend you. Attorney Sanger possesses the skill and experience to defend your license to practice medicine. Contact Attorney Sanger today at 785-979-4353 to schedule a consultation.