Dear Dr. Roach: The new laws concerning prescription of opioids, especially the requirement of three-day or seven-day prescriptions, has caused quite a disruption in our area, causing some doctors to take early retirement. Doctors should decide how long to treat patients. There are people who could get liver failure taking Tylenol or overusing aspirin. The drug overdoses are young people using street drugs like heroin or fentanyl. What do you say? — C.G.
Answer: Fatal overdoses from many different drugs have risen dramatically over the past 20 years. All deaths from overdose are tragedies, and it’s certainly appropriate to try to find ways of reducing these deaths. There is absolutely a risk that people who need opioids for long-term chronic pain are having increased difficulty getting them. Not everyone benefits from long-term use of opiates, but there are people who use them appropriately and effectively. An expert should be consulted in these cases.
Prescription opioids are the cause of roughly 25% of fatal overdoses. Reducing UNNECESSARY prescribing of these drugs is likely to reduce the number of people becoming dependent on the drugs. A 30-day prescription for a painful condition expected to last only a few days is a mistake with potentially profound consequences. However, excess restriction on prescriptions for the subset of people with chronic pain who benefit from long-term opiates could cause the difficulties you mention in addition to letting terrible pain go unrelieved.