Opinion: Cease persecuting medical doctors for legitimately prescribing opioids for power ache

My spouse and daughter are power ache sufferers. On behalf of them and others like them, I’ve spent 22 years moderating social media help teams and analyzing medical literature so non-doctors can perceive it. My diploma is in engineering, not medication, although I’ve realized an incredible deal about ache, ache reduction, and well being care in the US.

Within the 50+ Fb teams I help, I hear from folks in agony each week. To guard identities, listed below are some paraphrases from on-line posts:

My physician pressured me to taper down opioid remedy beneath a degree that had for years given me reduction from ache and good high quality of life for years. Now I’m completely disabled and in fixed ache.
My physician’s follow says they are going to not prescribe opioids to anybody. However no different ache middle in our space is taking new sufferers.
My physician needs me to take Tylenol and study to meditate.
I can’t take way more of this.

Docs ought to have gotten the message by now that deserting sufferers is a violation of medical follow requirements, to not point out human rights. However they haven’t. On the contrary, they’ve been listening to about different medical doctors who obtained raided by Drug Enforcement Company swat groups, their sufferers terrorized, medical data seized, and practices ruined by bulletins in native information media. Compounding such brutal ways, chain pharmacies have compiled excessive prescriber lists, blacklisting “prime prescribing” physicians and denying prescription ache treatment to their sufferers.


A lot of the mess described by sufferers stems straight from the 2016 Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s “Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Continual Ache.” In it, the CDC urged practitioners to keep away from rising opioid doses for brand spanking new sufferers above each day doses of 50 morphine milligram equivalents (MME). For sufferers maintained on doses above 90 MME, medical doctors had been instructed to conduct and doc threat and profit opinions.

The CDC guideline turned controversial virtually instantly after it was printed. Regardless of main criticism, it was broadly interpreted by physicians, hospitals, insurance coverage suppliers, state legislators, medical boards, and the DEA as a mandate for exhausting limits on prescribing opioids — even for so-called legacy sufferers for whom long-term or high-dose opioids had already confirmed protected and efficient.

For the reason that publication of the rule of thumb, the American Medical Affiliation, the American Affiliation of Household Physicians, and different organizations have repudiated the science, logic, and conclusions of the CDC guideline and of the DEA’s witch hunt. However no one in authorities is listening to medical professionals any greater than they’re listening to sufferers.

In November, 2018, the American Medical Affiliation’s Home of Delegates issued its groundbreaking Decision 235. It reads partially:

“… no entity ought to use MME (morphine milligram equivalents) thresholds as something greater than steerage, and physicians shouldn’t be topic to skilled self-discipline, lack of board certification, lack of medical privileges, prison prosecution, civil legal responsibility, or different penalties or follow limitations solely for prescribing opioids at a quantitative degree above the MME thresholds discovered within the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids.”

In April 2019, beneath hearth from medical professionals throughout the nation, the CDC suggested towards “misapplication” of the rule of thumb. Writing within the New England Journal of Drugs, three authors of the rule of thumb stated it was by no means meant to turn into a mandated customary, despite the fact that greater than 30 states had integrated it into laws within the three years since its publication. At about the identical time, the FDA issued a security warning towards quickly tapering people off opioids or abruptly stopping their administration, based mostly on identified harms to sufferers.

As many affected person advocates stated on the time, the CDC and FDA bulletins had been too little too late. Tens of hundreds of sufferers had already been abandoned by their medical doctors or pressured to surrender the ache drugs that had allowed them to operate.

Physicians have been stepping up their criticism of the CDC guideline and the DEA’s presence of their medical practices. Final month, the American Academy of Household Physicians and 5 different skilled teams representing 560,000 physicians and college students known as on politicians to “finish political interference within the supply of proof based mostly medication.” As they famous, “physicians ought to by no means face imprisonment or different penalties for offering crucial care. These legal guidelines drive physicians to resolve between their sufferers and dealing with prison proceedings.”

On June 10, the AMA issued Board of Trustees Report 22 which, amongst different issues, condemns the usage of “excessive prescriber” lists by nationwide pharmacy chains to blacklist high-prescribing physicians and forestall their sufferers from having ache prescriptions crammed. Pharmacies aren’t the one ones utilizing this tactic: Regional U.S. attorneys are additionally sending intimidating letters to “excessive prescribers,” warning them that their “prescribing practices could also be contributing to the stream of prescription opioids into unlawful markets and fueling harmful addictions.” This declare, nonetheless, will not be substantiated by medical proof.

In opposition to this background, there’s an inconvenient proven fact that nobody in authorities needs to listen to: virtually the whole lot of the general public narrative that shapes federal and state opioid coverage is unsuitable. Utilizing knowledge printed by the CDC itself, a colleague and I’ve proven that there isn’t a relationship between state-by-state charges of opioid prescribing by medical doctors and overdose-related deaths from all sources of opioids, together with authorized or diverted prescriptions and unlawful road medicine. In different phrases, there’s no trigger and impact between prescribing charges and overdose deaths — and historic charting of the info reveal that hasn’t been the case in 20 years.

Knowledge from CDC Surprise

At the same time as charges of opioid prescribing dropped by 25% between 2011 and 2017, opioid overdose deaths continued to rise.

As opioid prescriptions decline, overdose deaths increaseKnowledge from CDC Surprise

The central assumptions of presidency coverage regulating medical opioids are straight contradicted by knowledge on prescribing, mortality, and demographics. The implications are profound and apparent: whatever the greed and misdirection of some unhealthy apple medical doctors, authorities restrictions on prescribing opioids to ache sufferers are based mostly on mythology, not truth. And overreach by the DEA is destroying tens of hundreds of sufferers’ lives for no good cause. I hear every single day the tales of ache sufferers victimized by over-regulation. You possibly can learn some by scrolling by way of the feedback on this STAT article, or this one.

Authorities coverage for opioid ache relievers is now an enormous tangle. Sufferers, households, and their medical doctors want someone to chop this bureaucratic Gordian knot and finish the insanity. That someone is Congress and the time is now — earlier than governments lapse into even deeper paralysis through the 2020 election campaigns.

It’s time for Congress to direct the CDC to withdraw its guideline for a ground-up rewrite by an company just like the NIH or FDA that truly is aware of what it’s doing. Likewise, the Veterans Well being Administration have to be directed to withdraw its intently associated “Opioid Security Initiative.” Veterans inform me that medical follow requirements embedded within the initiative are driving vets to suicide by denying them remedy with opioid ache relievers. Lastly, the DEA have to be instructed to face down and cease persecuting medical doctors who’re legitimately prescribing opioids to their sufferers with power ache for “over-prescribing,” one thing for which no company has but created an accepted definition.

There must be a legislation … and I volunteer to assist write it. AMA Decision 235 (described earlier) should turn into necessary coverage for all federal well being care and legislation enforcement businesses: the CDC, FDA, NIH, DEA, VA, the Nationwide institute on Drug Abuse, and the Division of Justice, to call just some. Then state-level drug regulators and legislation enforcement should be knowledgeable of the coverage change — pointedly.

It’s time to finish the insanity!

Richard A. “Crimson” Lawhern, Ph.D., is a non-physician affected person advocate, moderator of on-line affected person communities, and co-founder and former director of analysis for The Alliance for Therapy of Intractable Ache.