Should providers be held responsible for patients’ addiction to prescription pain medications?

Should providers be held responsible for patients’ addiction to prescription pain medications?

With the number of addiction cases and deaths increasing each day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially labeled the abuse of prescription drugs a national epidemic. Recent statistics by the CDC indicate that opioid abuse increased by 50% between 2007 and 2010 and has continued to increase significantly in the past decade. But who is to blame for the opioid crisis in the United States? There are many fingers pointing, with most of the blame falling on doctors and providers for overprescribing the pain medications.

Doctors and providers have played a significant role in the growing opioid crisis. Many providers often underestimate the risk of opioid addiction and often overprescribe the medications to their patients. In the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies began producing and selling opioids in large numbers, doctors also began prescribing the medications at an alarming rate. Over the years, the prescription of opioids has quadrupled between 1999 and 2014. In 2013 alone, doctors prescribed over 207 million pain medications from 71 million in 1991. There have been cases of rogue doctors who have succumbed to the “business” of prescribing the medications rather than the practice.

Doctors have the responsibility of doing good by their patients and showing good judgment when caring for them, including using discretion when prescribing pain medications.  Doctors and other providers are well aware of the risks and dangers of opioid addiction. When prescribed in moderation, pain medications have the ability to help a patient without creating an addiction problem, but when overprescribed can lead to very serious addiction problems.

Most doctors intend to help their patients and not cause harm. However, when they fail to notice to identify an addiction to pain medications, frequent and unnecessary refills, or prescribes the pain medication unnecessarily, they should be held accountable for the consequences. Doctors are in the position to identify patients using non-medical prescription drugs and take the necessary measures to prevent the patients from getting hooked to the medications. Through a thorough medical assessment, doctors should identify an existing addiction problem and help the patient overcome the problem before it escalates. Even when a patient needs the pain medications, the providers should be able to track the amounts of medication that the patients need to alleviate pain and prevent the problem before it happens.

The proposed bill that would hold doctors responsible for patients who become addicted to prescription medications has received positive and negative views. But while most blame falls on the providers, eradicating the opioid crisis requires joined efforts from all players, including the patients, pharmacists, manufacturers, and the government.

Hirsh, A. T., Anastas, T. M., Miller, M. M., Quinn, P. D., & Kroenke, K. (2020). Patient race and opioid misuse history influence provider risk perceptions for future opioid-related problems. American Psychologist75(6), 784.

Majid, Z., Tanveer, M., Asghar, S. A., Tahir, F., Minhaj, A., Khan, H. A., … & Imtiaz, F. (2019). Opioids use and abuse: Prescription practice, attitude, and beliefs among Doctors of Karachi. Cureus11(7).

Theisen, K., Jacobs, B., Macleod, L., & Davies, B. (2018). The United States opioid epidemic: a review of the surgeon’s contribution to it and health policy initiatives. BJU international122(5), 754-759.

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