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Draconian Opioid Policies Punish Patients with Debilitating Pain

Ohio has bragging rights as the top state for regulating prescription drugs. Via AP:

The American Medical Association has listed Ohio as the top state when it comes to monitoring prescription drugs.

The AMA says in a recent fact sheet that Ohio processed more than 24 million queries from doctors and other health professionals through the Board of Pharmacy's Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System.

The state created the system to track the dispensing of controlled substances and monitor suspected abuse. OARRS has been a key tool in battling the state's deadly addictions epidemic.

But is it working? Doesn't look like it. According to the CDC, the state saw a 21.5 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2014-2015. Only six states had higher increases. The Buckeye State had a staggering 3,310 deaths in 2015, making it the second-worst state in the nation. Ohio's 29.9 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people earned the state a spot near the top of the national chart, behind only West Virginia and New Hampshire with 41.5 and 34.3 deaths per 100,000 respectively.

Gov. Kasich's answer to these devastating statistics is to make it harder for people to get their hands on prescription opioids. He recently issued an executive edict limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days (five days for minors) for acute conditions.

“You are going to have to abide by these rules or else you’re in serious trouble, whether you’re a doctor, a dentist or a nurse,” he warned.

Warnings like this, while well-intentioned, hurt law-abiding citizens who now often suffer in pain because they can't get the meds they genuinely need for legitimate health problems. Opioid pain medications can be safe and effective for treating pain when used appropriately, but increased regulations on these drugs as a result of the heroin epidemic have made it monstrously difficult for those with chronic pain to get the drugs they need. I'm always shocked to hear about the huge quantities of prescription opioids that addicts were able to obtain because for most people who follow the rules, quantities are strictly limited and they require regular follow-up visits with a physician. Doctors are being threatened to within an inch of their medical licenses if they get caught over-prescribing (which, again, makes me marvel that anyone is able to obtain enough opioids—legally—to abuse them).

But the fears may be overblown. As Karl Herchenroeder reported here at PJM recently:

A common narrative cited in discussions about the opioid crisis – that a medical patient is prescribed painkillers, gets addicted and dies of an overdose – is a myth, an expert on the topic argued Wednesday.

During a discussion at the Cato Institute, Phoenix-based general surgeon Jeffrey Singer cited studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, JAMA Psychiatry and various municipalities supporting his claim. According to the CDC, the opioid-related overdose death rate for patients prescribed pain medication by doctors is 0.2 percent. A 2014 JAMA study showed that out of 136,000 patients treated for opioid overdoses in emergency rooms around the country, 13 percent involved chronic pain patients.

And though the U.S. recorded 33,000 opioid-related overdose deaths (including heroin) in 2015, Singer said that the vast majority of those deaths can be attributed to people mixing narcotics with other substances. New York City reported in 2013 that 94 percent of its residents who died from heroin or opioid abuse had multiple drugs in their system.

“It’s not like doctors are prescribing a painkiller for a patient in pain, who then gets hooked and becomes a heroin addict. That’s not the usual way,” Singer said.