The use of pain medication in the U.S. is alarming–doctors write 71 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. In 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 deaths in the United States, 63.1% of which involved opioids. The medical malpractice risk arises because these powerful pain medications are highly addictive, even after short-term use. An estimated 2.0 million people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription opioids.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that doctors in the U.S. are prescribing opioids less often. However, the CDC reports the number of opioid prescriptions is still a lot higher than it should be–more than triple where it was in 1999. Also worrisome is that the length of prescriptions has increased from an average of 13 days to 18 days.
The dangers of opioid use and addiction are well-known to doctors. Doctors frequently receive warnings about prescribing opioids. Presumably, this contributed to the reduction in prescriptions. Despite reductions in prescriptions, opioid-involved overdose death rates continue to increase. One reason, apparently, is inconsistent practice patterns and a lack of consensus about appropriate opioid use. However, doctor’s have help.
CDC’s Guideline provides evidence-based recommendations about opioid prescribing. The recommendations are for primary care clinicians treating adult patients with chronic pain. The Guideline recommends the use of non-opioid therapies, such as acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, exercise therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain.
Awareness of the problem is the first step in protecting patients. Patients need their doctors to create safe, personalized plans for their pain management. Doctors need to be more careful in prescribing opioids and use safer drugs, physical therapy, and other modalities to alleviate pain. Using the CDC Guidelines could help doctors avoid medical malpractice when treating their patients’ pain.