The Pennsylvania boards that oversee licensing and discipline for doctors and pharmacists agreed yesterday to adopt new guidelines for distributing and prescribing opioids, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Physician General Rachel Levine told the boards that an overemphasis on pain reduction, the development of powerful opioids, and the influx of cheap heroin have “exploded into the overdose crisis that we’re seeing today.” A record 3,383 Pennsylvanians died of overdoses in 2015. Dr. Levine said the numbers in the first quarter of this year suggest an even grimmer toll for 2016. Nationally, the annual number of overdose deaths is approaching the U.S. death toll from the entire 12-year Vietnam War, she said.
The Board of Pharmacy, which licenses and regulates pharmacists, quickly and unanimously approved the voluntary guidelines for dispensing opioids. The Board of Medicine listened to and questioned Dr. Levine for an hour before meeting in executive session. “Properly prescribed opioids have a wonderful place in medicine,” said Keith Loiselle, the public’s representative on the Board of Medicine. He feared that “physicians become so fearful of making a mistake in this that they begin to underprescribe or perhaps not appropriately prescribe. … Not every patient becomes a heroin addict.”