Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Happens When Regulators Don't Trust Clinicians?

USA Today published an interesting point/counterpoint this week on the question of whether doctors should be forced to check a prescription drug monitoring database prior to writing a prescription for an opioid.  The advocates for such an approach (me included) argue that fundamental public health concerns trump the arguments against mandatory checks, primarily that this new step in the process of clinical delivery presents privacy and convenience hurdles.

But if one examines the true concerns of clinicians that have pushed back against mandatory PDMP checks, one would find a deeper, more meaningful, more consequential issue: when it comes to prescription drug misuse and abuse, government regulators are exhibiting ever higher levels of distrust of the medical community.   

Perhaps nowhere else has this been laid more plain than in Massachusetts.  Governor Charlie Baker, a former physician group and health plan CEO, has proposed an aggressive set of measures to stem the opioid epidemic in his state.  I'm not using the term "aggressive" lightly here...

Among several other potentially controversial provisions, the proposed bill would limit new prescriptions for opioids to 72 hours (with very limited exceptions for emergency situations).  A patient in Massachusetts might go to the doctor, complain of low back pain, and receive a script for pain management.  But the max a doctor would be able to write is a 3-day script.  After that, the patient would need to come back to the doctor for an additional script if the continuation of the medication is deemed necessary.

As expected, the reaction of Massachusetts doctors appears to range from supportive to skeptical to deeply concerned.

I haven't decided whether or not this is a good idea.  I'll be researching the approach and discussing it with others for a while before I come to any conclusions.

What strikes me is that regulatory bodies ranging from state work comp agencies (think "closed formularies") to state legislators (think "mandatory PDMP checks") to state governors (think "Charlie Baker's plan") are essentially saying: Enough of this.  It's gone on too long and too many people are dying.  The clinical community has had their chance.  It's time for us to step in and shut this down.

Will there be unintended consequences?  Yes.  Will it result in the mitigation of prescription drug misuse and abuse for which we all hope?  TBD.

Might the clinical community awake and recognize the necessity for them to self-correct this problem to avoid further unwelcome intrusion into clinical practice from the regulatory community?

I hope so.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

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