Dispatch: No Pain, No Gain?

After U.S. officials reported an alarming 400 percent increase in the number of Americans treated for prescription painkiller abuse over the last decade, the state of Washington has decided to take matters into its own hands. It’s developing regulations prohibiting physicians from prescribing high doses of painkillers to patients who are unlikely to benefit from them, but are likely to abuse them. Narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin, fentanyl and methadone have contributed to an increase in overdose deaths resulting from drug abuse, and if Washington has its way, doctors will soon be required to refer patients on escalating doses of painkillers for an evaluation in an effort to curb the overdose epidemic.

A panel of clinicians directed by the Washington State Legislature is also creating a set of legal guidelines that physicians would have to adhere to when treating patients with long-term pain not associated with cancer. “This could be just the beginning of the kinds of restrictions enforced. A recent FDA advisory panel rejected painkiller prescription regulations they deemed were too lenient, so Washington’s approach could be the beginning of tighter control,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

Critics of the proposed legislation argue that patients with serious pain will have to endure further suffering. “This could have a massive negative impact for people with chronic painful conditions. Doctors will now become even more cautious when prescribing these medications because they will be accountable for the addicts who abuse the drugs and cause harm to themselves,” adds ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “This is a double-edged sword, since the number of young adults dying from overdose is rising dramatically.”