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Improper prescription of painkillers and professional discipline, P.1

Narcotics abuse and over-prescription has become an important issue in the United States in recent years as high profile individuals have been affected by the problem, which continues to grow across the population. Law enforcement, federal regulators and professional boards are all looking to the address the problem and prevent it from becoming worse.

The problem is serious because of the highly addictive nature of prescription painkillers. Drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin and other opioid painkillers work to reduce severe pain and are quite effective at doing so, but they can also lead to withdrawal symptoms and dependency when they are overused. Physicians are free to prescribe such medications, but they are supposed to follow standards of care in doing so.

Different organizations have different guidelines when it comes to the prescription of opioid painkillers. Back in March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own guideline, which incded a set of 12 recommendations. Among the recommendations are: chronic pain be treated with nonopioid painkillers, except in situations involving active cancer, palliative care and end-of-life care; the lowest possible effective dose should be prescribed; and providers should always exercise caution in the prescription of opioid painkillers and carefully monitor patients.

Other organizations have their own sets of recommendations regarding the prescription of opioid painkillers, and physicians are expected to be aware of these recommendations and exercise sound professional judgment in their use. Physicians who go outside the bounds of what would be considered acceptable in the prescription of opioid painkillers can end up being held liable for damages to the patient and may even put their license at risk. We’ll explore this issue in our next post.


National Institute on Drug Abuse, America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse,” Nora D. Volkow, M.D. May 14, 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “CDC Releases Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain,” March 15, 2016.

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