New prescription policy is worth monitoring for anti-opioid results

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has found that four in five new heroin users began abusing prescription painkillers.

That’s a pretty stark fact that lends credence to the thinking that the opioid epidemic is largely a product of prescription painkillers.

To that end, Geisinger Health System has embarked on a new set of practices regarding drug prescriptions that is worth monitoring for results.

The system slashed by half its opioid prescriptions and has upped its focus on a regimen of pain management combining physical therapy with changes in diet and behavior.

The system personnel are acknowledging – and letting patients know – that surgery is not pain-free.

They are more apt to prescribe Tylenol, Motrin or Ibuprofen and alternate among them in a post-surgery situation. For those patients who do get prescriptions, with the exceptions for such things as oncology treatment, the maximum pain-killer supply is for seven days.

Clinicians are being urged to explore treatment alternatives to medication through use of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that prevents doctor-shopping that fuels an illegal market for pain pills.

The system began electronic prescribing last August for controlled substances.

It now takes two steps to authorize a prescription and the order is shipped direct to a pharmacy, eliminating the opportunity to alter the dosage or pill count. Geisinger will be eliminating paper prescribing altogether this summer.

Opioid prescriptions at Geisinger have dropped from 60,000 to 31,000 since 2014.

It will be interesting to see if Geisinger’s approach achieves individual medical goals while cutting down on the obvious connection of prescribed painkillers and opioid addiction. The complete picture will be clouded by an ugly underbelly to the opioid crisis, painkiller abusers who shop for doctors that willingly prescribe pills for them.

We don’t have printable words to summarize our anger at doctors who knowingly violate the first rule of medicine to “first do no harm” by prescribing pills without caring enough to really know it’s necessary, all the while knowing that they are likely feeding an addict’s habit.

They are, plain and simple, drug pushers who are hiding in a system that is very difficult to monitor. They are no different than a drug-runner in a back alley. Initials behind a name can’t hide despicable behavior that disgraces the medical profession.

The state’s highest medical officials need to take a close look at the frequency of these practices and penalties that should be associated with them.