The Corner

Health Care

Sacrificing Pain Patients to Prevent Opioid Abuse

Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin sit at a local pharmacy in Provo, Utah, April 25, 2017. (George Frey/Reuters)

We certainly have an opioid addiction epidemic in this country that requires government action. But I worry that we may sacrifice the legitimate medical needs of patients in severe pain to protect people who abuse these powerful drugs from themselves.

That seems to be happening in California where the medical board has launched aggressive investigations into doctors whose patients died of an overdose — even if the drugs that caused death were not prescribed by that physician. Many doctors worry that this will create a significant chilling effect, leading to legitimate pain patients remaining untreated. From the California Healthline story:

Using terms such as “witch hunt” and “inquisition,” many doctors said the project is leading them or their peers to refuse patients’ requests for painkiller prescriptions — no matter how well documented the need — out of fear their practices will come under disciplinary review.

The project, first reported by MedPage Today, has struck a nerve among medical associations. Dr. Barbara McAneny, the American Medical Association president and an Albuquerque, N.M., oncologist whose cancer patients sometimes need treatment for acute pain, called the project “terrifying.” She said “it will only discourage doctors from taking care of patients with pain.”…

The crackdown on doctors has created fear, said Dr. Robert Wailes, a pain medicine specialist in Encinitas and chair of the California Medical Association’s Board of Trustees. “What we’re finding is that more and more primary care doctors are afraid to prescribe and more of those patients are showing up on our doorsteps,” he said.

As I reported here last year, the same chilling phenomenon seems to be happening in Nevada.

This is most unfortunate. Doctors should not be allowed to use their M.D. license as a cover for drug pushing. But responsible physicians should also not be punished for prescribing aggressively when there is no other practical means of providing effective medical relief. Surely, the benefit of the doubt in judging should go to alleviating pain.

And how’s this for a bitter irony? The same California doctors who could face punishment for prescribing pain pills to a patient outside the standard of care, can prescribe opioids to the terminally ill for use in suicide without worry since the only legal standard for death doctors is to act in “good faith.” Good grief, patients who can’t obtain adequate pain medication because of this aggressive enforcement action could conceivably be driven to seek such lethal prescriptions as the only readily available way out of their pain.

Most Popular

Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More
World

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More