Monday, June 4, 2012

With crackdown on pill abuse, will legitimate patients be able to get the prescriptions they need?

The crackdown on prescription-pill abuse has some patients worried they won't be able to get the medicine they need because doctors are fearful of over-prescribing. "It's a huge concern in a nation where chronic pain afflicts 116 million American adults and is associated with up to $635 billion in health care costs," reports Laura Ungar in an ongoing series for The Courier-Journal.

"Pain patients feel ashamed or weak that they have to take these medications ... (and) shy away from being treated," said Dr. James Murphy, a pain specialist in Louisville. 

But there is little evidence that pain patients who really need medicine are unable to find treatment. Ungar reports: "It may take longer for them to find a doctor, experts said, and they may be subjected to urine tests and pill counts to ensure they're not abusing their medicines. But most eventually are able to get the medication they need."

"I don't see any decrease in the amount of opioid prescribing in any jurisdiction," Dr. Nathaniel Katz, president and chief executive officer of the Masschusetts-based consulting firm Analgesic Solutions, told Ungar. "So it's difficult to justify a position that legitimate opioid prescribing is being chilled."

Some worry that making physicians use the state's prescription drug monitoring system — commonly known as KASPER — for new patients could create that chilling effect. A survey of controlled-substance prescribers made to use KASPER found about half didn't change their prescribing habits and about 13 percent said they actually prescribed more opioids. But 35 percent, or 190 prescribers, said they had decreased the amount of controlled substance they subscribed because of "media coverage of abuse, increased law enforcement activity related to prescription-drug abuse and fear of investigations by law enforcement or the medical board," Ungar reports.

Some are concerned that "if more doctors make that choice, desperate pain patients may feel forced to seek relief at unscrupulous pain clinics," Ungar reports. (Read more)

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