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Washington State Law Tightens Access to Prescription Painkillers


A law in Washington State requires doctors to refer patients taking high doses of opioids for evaluation by a pain specialist if their underlying condition does not improve. The law passed last year is aimed at reducing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Ohio is considering similar legislation, The New York Times reports.

Some doctors in Washington have stopped treating pain patients, the article notes.

It is common for doctors prescribing pain medications not to monitor patients, and to simply prescribe an increasing amount, says Dr. Claire Trescott of Group Health in Seattle. She told the newspaper that is because treating pain patients, who are often also anxious or depressed, can be difficult and time-consuming. She said doctors end up treating the pain, instead of the underlying condition.

The Washington law sets a painkiller dosage level that requires a referral, which has created controversy. Several national pain experts said the provision would restrict patient access to care, and the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, also opposed the measure. Even some proponents of the law said there was a lack of evidence to support the dosage threshold.

Group Health treats 420,000 patients at 25 clinics throughout Washington. The health care system has placed controls on how painkillers are prescribed.

Over the last four years, Group Health says it has cut the percentage of patients on high opioid dosages in half, and decreased the average daily dose in patients who regularly take opioids by one-third.

The system is now studying how those changes have affected patients. The newspaper notes other studies have suggested many chronic pain patients may derive significant benefits from lower opioid use, such as much higher recovery rates.

11 Responses to this article

  1. Cyndi Lynn Haltom / August 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    The following comments are my opinions only and in every sense of the word I support a drug free environment by all people who do not need to use medication as a pain reliever or for some other medical condition. I feel the same way about the very liberal use of the drug, alcohol.

    I don’t believe the new laws are directed at any one group of people, vets or other injured, it’s directed toward anyone who is in pain. I broke my back and both knees were destroyed in 1994 and have suffered greatly through the years. I was on 480+ mgs of opiates a day and have only within the past year been able to stay at a much lower dose of 80 mgs a day to manage my pain. It took a lot of work to get to this dose because I didn’t like the way my brain malfunctioned at such a high dosage I weened myself down. It has been very hard but I accomplished what I set out to do which was to reduce my need. Unfortunately, I’m not pain free but i can think clearly.

    Further, pain management doctors are a joke and most of them have not suffered a single day in real pain. They read books and sit in place to tell us what to do based solely on the books they’ve read. My first pain management doctor related this to me, he had arthroscopic surgery on one of his knees, therefore he said he understood my pain which was by definition so much greater than anything he could imagine; at this time I had a 4 level fusion of my lower spine, 3 arthroscopic surgeries on my knees, two total knee replacement surgeries, pulmonary emboli where I was in a coma for 2 weeks (this was due to immobility problems before my back surgery) and intestinal problems because of the medications, IBS AND RLS. I couldn’t believe his remark but it goes to speak of just how much these doctors think they know. Head knowledge is not the same as the understanding you get from experience.

    With that said, I believe this is just another form of control by our government, be it state or federal, the more they can tell you what to do, monitor what’s being done, then the more control they have over your life.

    Unfortunately most of this stems from the fact there are people who abuse the system and sell their drugs. So many people are desperate for money and I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that it’s a terrible thing to be poor and not be able to provide for your family. A person will do what is necessary regardless of any concern for the legality issues. As a result of this kind of abuse all people who have to take pain medication are placed in the same box and are treated as abusers. In order to ensure that we are doing what we are told we are tested, treated like idiots and placed on some kind of to be monitored list.

    One last thing, you have the seller of the drug who needs money, most of the buyers are in pain so they need the pill. Perhaps there is a much better solution to this ever growing problem. Figure out a way for the seller to make more money by ‘passing’ the wealth around instead of making sure it remains in the hands of less than 1% of the population.

    Our government isn’t going to change it’s desire to control everyone, it’ll continue passing new laws to get to that end; so people won’t change, there won’t be any fairness with regard to wealth, and those who need to be treated medically will have to suffer because of the bureaucracy in this country. You may think I’m crazy, it really doesn’t matter, just look at all the laws being passed, laws of control and you’ll see, this is just one more but most definitely I can guarantee it won’t be the last.

  2. Avatar of brian
    brian / March 17, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I was injured in combat over seas and am struggling to hold a job together and deal with the severe amount of pain I have to endure. I’ve gone through all the non narcotic options and they either don’t work or have massively disabling side effects. Now Thanks to the state the VA is cutting my description down and I’m not going to even be able to get out of bed let alone hold down a job. I’m not abusing pain killers , I went and fought for this country now I’m being Told that a lower dose will”cure” me…. Who are the quacks making these laws and Why are vets of all people having to suffer, more?

  3. Avatar of Damon
    Damon / March 3, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    This makes me sick, Thanks to the liberals many of us are loosing more and more freedoms. People who don’t have chronic pain AND who aren’t doctors shouldn’t be passing laws effecting serious issues they cant possibly understand. No matter what your diagnosis, you will Never get the tools to allow you to live a full life. If Karma is true, these people will soon have debilitating injuries with no way to cover their pain.

  4. Rachel Read-Dean / November 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I Too Have Had Issues Finding Any Pain ManagemenT Doctors. I Live In Kitsap County, Washington. There Are Maybe A Total Of Five, If That, Pain Doctors Here. I Have Been In An Intolerable Amount Of Pain Since The New Laws, And At The Same Time, My Amazing Doctor Retired. I Am On 1/ 4Th The Amount Of Pain Meds That I Used To Be On. The People Who Believe We Don’t Need Pain Meds Have Never Suffered The Debilitating PainThat.Some Of Us Go Through. I Truly Wish They Could Feel What We Do Every DaY. I Guarantee The Laws Would Change In Our Favor. My Heart Goes Out.To All Of You Suffering DailY Pain And Depression.

  5. Avatar of Will
    Will / March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    What realy angers me is the fact that the people who REALLY need the pain meds are having to suffer because of the low-lifes stealing others’ meds or getting them ilegal from another country. And as for the people making these suggestions, your pain day will come and you will experience what we (th epeople suffering) have been going thorugh.

  6. Avatar of tara
    tara / July 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    while the underlying conditions were also being treated I still have large onsets on pain. haveing had fibro for 13 years also now have a degeneration in my spine, bi polar and now severe anxiety since my legs go numb.
    I have called dr after dr, in pierce county
    and been turned down by all i have called stating they are not accepting new patients with any chronic illness. I dont have the money to see 3 different specilists. what our states is going to do is not collect more in taxes from cannibis users. so now we will be required to by meds illegally or be stones from drugs just to make it..
    I work a long 66 hour week. i would not be able to do after my meds have run out and have no treatment. so then i guess wellfare will be dealing with me and my kids then.
    i feel this law is unconstitutional and needs to be repealed. they need to understand that it is up to the doctor and the patient.. NOT THE STATE OR FED.

  7. Avatar of Mary
    Mary / April 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    The problem isn’t that the pain isn’t being treated. The problem is that the condition itself is not being treated. People are being pumped filled with opioids, which doesn’t help the actual problem. The goal should be to get a proper diagnosis, and treat accordingly, not just numb the patient so they stop complaining.

  8. John French / April 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    When the Government starts making medical decisions there is always problems. Between the DEA scare tactics and the Government interference there are now many people suffering because they cannot get adequate pain treatment. The law of unintended consequences- but hey-the Government meant well…

  9. Avatar of Cheryl Grice
    Cheryl Grice / April 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    “studies have suggested many chronic pain patients may derive significant benefits from lower opioid use, such as much higher recovery rates.”

    OH REALLY? And just how does one “recover” from a GENETIC CONDITION?

    What about the studies done a couple of years ago that showed that most people were being UNDERTREATED for pain?

    Make up your minds! And don’t tell us how we feel!

  10. Avatar of Rachel
    Rachel / April 10, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    What many people don’t know is that patients who are and have been with chronic pain need these medications to be able to survive. I have two teenage children. I attend college full time. I am doing my best to live, yet my medication has been nearly cut-off because of my doctor and this new law. This is greatly affecting my life as I am not able to do regular daily activities. Why do others find it necessary to try and control other peoples lives!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Avatar of Josh
    Josh / February 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I loved your message u posted about pain killers and why they feel the need to controls us the people it’s a true shame, now we have. Marijuana dispensaries And alcohol it every front counter at the grocery store We should have the right ourselves to choose How many pills we need to be on a month because we know how our bodies work Really at all comes down to money they could just ask us an extra 40 or 50 bucks a month for bills and then the problem solved

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