Prescription painkiller monitoring laws may help curb epidemic of opioid overprescription, study suggests

by Michael Heygood

A new study conducted by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College suggests that monitoring the number of painkiller prescriptions written by doctors may be an effective means of helping to curb the epidemic of opioid overprescription in the U.S. According to the study published in the journal Health Affairs, states that passed laws to monitor opioid painkiller prescriptions and the doctors who issued them saw a 30% decrease in prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances.

The abuse of opioid painkillers—and the cases of addiction, overdose, and death caused by this abuse—have become a significant problem in the U.S. over the last two decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid painkiller overdoses accounted for about 47,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2014—more than the 32,000 Americans who died in car accidents during that time. Thousands of additional patients who are prescribed opioid drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, or fentanyl have become addicted to these medications, placing them at risk of an overdose. The CDC estimates that about 1.9 million Americans were dependent on prescription opioid painkillers in 2013.

Researchers in the Health Affairs study found that states that passed laws to monitor opioid prescriptions saw an immediate drop in the number of painkillers that were prescribed in their state. According to the study, before painkiller prescription monitoring laws were passed, opioids were prescribed to patients in about 5.5% of all doctor visits. After the laws went into effect, painkillers were prescribed in only 3.7% of doctor visits. These decreases in the frequency of opioid prescriptions continued through the second and third years after the laws were passed, the study found.

However, researchers say that they are still not certain why the physician monitoring programs for opioid medications were so effective at reducing the number of prescriptions issued for these drugs. The study suggested that other factors could also have played a role in the drop in opioid painkiller prescriptions in states that passed doctor monitoring programs for opioids. “It is possible that the implementation of a prescription drug monitoring program by itself substantially raised awareness among prescribers about controlled substance misuse and abuse and made them more cautious when prescribing pain medications with a great potential for abuse and dependency. It is also possible that knowing that their prescribing was being ‘watched’ deterred them from prescribing Schedule II opioids to some extent.”

Other studies about the prescription of opioid painkillers have highlighted the significant role that physicians may play in contributing to opioid abuse and addiction. A Stamford study published earlier this year found that primary care physicians, rather than pain specialists, are the largest prescribers of opioid medications in the U.S.

The aggressive promotion of opioid medications by the pharmaceutical industry has also played a key role in the increase frequency of opioid prescriptions over the last two decades. According to the Stamford study, prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen by 300% since 1999, due in part to efforts by the medical community and the drug industry to aggressively treat pain through the use of opioid medications.

Researchers behind the Health Affairs study said that the reduction in opioid prescriptions that resulted from prescription monitoring laws could be a significant step in helping to reduce the number of opioids prescriptions in the U.S. and curbing the rate of abuse, addiction, and overdose caused by these drugs. “Given the sheer volume of opioid prescribing each year in the United States (enough to medicate every U.S. adult for a month) and the lack of evidence supporting long-term opioid use for chronic non-cancer pain, changes in opioid prescribing in response to the existence of prescription drug monitoring programs are likely to reflect a move toward more appropriate prescribing of pain medications among some prescribers.”

Opioid Painkiller Lawsuits Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

The overprescription of prescription painkiller medications has caused disastrous consequences for patients who developed addictions or suffered overdoses due to their use of these drugs. For years, the drug industry has aggressively promoted opioid medications to physicians, regardless of the health consequences their use may have for patients. Doctors who indiscriminately prescribe these opioid medications to patients have also contributed to the growing epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses in the U.S.

Victims of opioid overdoses or other serious complications caused by opioid overprescription may be eligible to file a lawsuit against manufacturer of the drug, or the doctor or hospital that was responsible for your injuries. The first step in taking legal action is to talk with a law firm with the experience and knowledge to successfully handle your case from start to finish.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous individuals who have suffered overdose, addiction, or other complications from opioid painkiller prescriptions. Our firm has both the training and experience to prosecute medical malpractice cases involving a wide array of other serious opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and hydrocodone, OxyContin and oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, and other medications.

If you or a loved one has suffered an overdose or other complications resulting from opioid painkiller medications, the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are ready to help. For more information about prescription painkiller lawsuits and to learn whether you may be eligible to file a case, contact our law firm by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form located at the top of this page and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.