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An Alarming View Of Opioid Prescriptions

Lawmakers in Ohio have passed several measures designed to get a handle on the prescription of pain medications that can be addicting. The laws are one response to a frightening epidemic of opioid abuse and the resulting deaths. According to one recent estimate, nearly 60,000 people overdosed in 2016, many of them lost to prescription and non-prescription painkillers. Drug overdoses are now the most common cause of death among Americans under 50 years old.

Responsible drug prescriptions

Ohio was forced to act in an attempt to control irresponsible practices at "pain management clinics." The popularity of these clinics rose quickly and coincided with the spike in opioid prescriptions and overdoses. Ohio law now requires that these clinics be owned and operated by one or more physicians. These physicians must meet further requirements, including:

  • Having never been denied a license to prescribe, dispense, administer, supply or sell a controlled substance
  • Having never had their license restricted for inappropriate actions regarding a controlled substance
  • Having never been subjected to disciplinary action by a licensing entity based on inappropriate actions regarding controlled substances 

Inconsistent prescription practices

Even controlling for population, the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers varies wildly from one county to the next. Legal crackdowns against "pill mills" in Florida led to a widespread decrease in prescriptions in many Florida counties from 2010 to 2015. Similar law enforcement efforts reduced prescriptions in Appalachian states. As those areas tackled their problems with abusive prescription practices, other counties saw a sharp rise in opioid distribution.

Medical judgment

There is no simple solution to the problem of drug addiction. Physicians who prescribe addictive painkillers in an irresponsible manner play a role in the epidemic of drug overdoses. Doctors are given the power to write prescriptions for a reason. If they do not exercise judgment in writing prescriptions, why are they involved at all? Painkillers that are not available over the counter are restricted for a reason. It is up to doctors to use their training to make sure that prescriptions are given for valid medical reasons and in reasonable quantities. When they act irresponsibly, they should be held accountable.

Source: fivethirtyeight, "Opioid Prescriptions Across The U.S.," by Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Ella Koeze, 1 August 2017 

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