This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
The state Department of Health is attempting a tough balancing act as it tightens the rules on prescription opiates.
Thousands of Washingtonians who suffer from severe chronic pain depend on these powerful painkillers. Unfortunately, common drug-seekers also hunger for Oxycontin, Vicodin, methadone and the like, and they often get them by conning doctors, buying them on the street or simply stealing them.
Prescribing practices got looser in the 1990s after it became clear that the medical profession wasn’t treating pain aggressively enough. But the loosening went too far, producing a dramatic rise in overdose poisonings.
The 2010 Legislature told the Department of Health to crack down, and the department has adopted new regulations – to take effect in January – designed to prevent abuses.
Many doctors and patients are worried. As of January, physicians who prescribe opiates for chronic, noncancer pain will have to maintain health histories that document a multitude of factors, including their patients’ psychiatric conditions; past addictions; “risk of significant adverse events, including falls or fractures”; and “the effect of the pain on physical and psychological function.”
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