Doctors’ Blueprint for Responsible Painkiller Prescriptions

The nation’s growing opioid abuse crisis has been well documented.  As one response, the federal government recently published an educational guide for doctors on how to properly prescribe the powerful painkillers.

According to preliminary estimates, opioid overdoses may have killed well over 60,000 people in 2017.  Medication errors are a leading type of serious and preventable medical mistakes.  As the data suggest, when doctors aren’t careful in prescribing opioids, the results can be fatal for some patients.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration published what it calls a revised “blueprint” for treating patients who suffer from chronic pain.  In particular, it outlines the dangers of prescribing opioids.  While friends or relatives were the largest channel for painkillers per the report, doctors’ prescriptions were the second biggest source.

The report includes several recommendations to doctors for improving the safety of the opioid prescription process.

First, doctors should be better educated on identifying and treating their patients’ chronic pain. Before developing a treatment plan for severe pain – especially before prescribing opioids as a treatment – physicians should conduct a thorough patient assessment.  The assessment should include the patient’s health history, a physical exam, and a psychological evaluation.

Doctors Should Assess Patient’s Risk for Opioid Abuse

More specifically, doctors should know how to adequately assess risk factors that may lead patients to become addicted to prescription painkillers. They should also review with patients and their caregivers the safe way to use opioids, including how to store them and properly dispose of them when no longer needed.

When prescribing opioids, there are several factors doctors should consider, according to the FDA’s blueprint.  One consideration applies to whom opioids are being prescribed.   For example, doctors must be educated on the specific needs and challenges of “special populations,” such as pregnant women, children, and older adults.

Prescription Painkiller Adverse Events

Physicians should also be fully informed on possible adverse events and patient harm arising from opioid prescriptions.  Adverse events specific to opioids include the potential for slower breathing, which could be deadly for someone with sleep apnea.

Chronic pain sufferers often will consider just about any answer if it offers promise.  It’s up to physicians, then, to responsibly prescribe opioids to ensure patients and their families don’t experience any additional catastrophic suffering.

If you had a family member die from an error in medical treatment, talk with a medical malpractice attorney, who can further investigate on your behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog February 28, 2018