The Drug Enforcement Administration and top pain specialists have issued joint guidelines designed to reassure worried doctors that they will not be prosecuted for prescribing high doses of powerful morphine-based painkillers for patients who need them for pain, says the Washington Post. The guidelines make clear that doctors have responsibilities to ensure that their patients are not abusing prescription opioids such as OxyContin and are not doctor-shopping to collect narcotics for illicit sales.
The new document, which will be distributed to law enforcement agencies and all doctors who apply for DEA approval to prescribe controlled drugs, is an effort to resolve a controversy that has troubled pain specialists. An earlier paper failed to clarify the issues, leading to a situation in which many patients with severe pain have been turned away by doctors and pharmacists concerned that prescribing and dispensing opioid painkillers would get them in trouble with the law. DEA and other law enforcement agencies stepped up their prosecutions of doctors, pharmacists, and some of their employees after the prescription narcotic OxyContin became widely used and abused in the late 1990s, resulting in numerous overdoses. With hundreds of doctors charged in recent years, pain patients and doctors who treat them have complained of a climate of fear — adding to what is widely seen as a serious nationwide problem of inadequate pain treatment.