How Physicians Can Avoid Opioid Prescription Trouble

As a physician, you may or may not be aware of new government efforts to fight the U.S. opioid epidemic. While the goal is to reduce unlawful or unnecessary opioid prescriptions, the new enforcement is also causing trouble for doctors who prescribe the drugs.

A particular part of the program that could be problematic for doctors is a data analysis initiative that will identify physicians who are writing high numbers of opioid prescriptions. Although prescribing opioids is a common practice for many physicians, in the face of new regulations, it is essential to take necessary steps to keep your license safe.

Here’s how to protect your license and when you may need help from a doctor license defense lawyer.

Review Your Prescribing Practices

If you have not taken stock of your prescribing practices since new opioid prescription enforcement efforts began, now is the time. Start by considering whether any opioid prescription you write is a necessity and whether you are the best prescriber.

For example, if a patient’s condition requires pain medication for a specific ongoing condition, think about whether it is best for you to treat them yourself, or if it would be better to refer them to a pain management clinic or specialist.

If you do decide to prescribe opioids, you can protect yourself by providing proper documentation in the patient’s file. Document why other responsible medical professionals would recognize the treatment as appropriate.

CURES

Doctors should review the CURES reports for all patients and for your general prescribing history.  This will help you identify patients who may be “doctor shopping” for prescriptions, and will assist in assessing whether a patient is using prescribed drugs consistent with normal practice and dosing.  Reviewing CURES will also help ensure that you do not prescribe a narcotic for which a refill is not due, given the quantify previously prescribed and the number of days or months since the last prescription.

Never Prescribe Under Suspicious Circumstances

As a physician, you want to trust your patients, but the unfortunate reality is that not all patients are always honest, especially when it comes to opioids. Even a single incorrect judgment that results in an opioid prescription could cause trouble for your license. If you are in doubt about a patient, consider referring them to a specialist or pain management clinic.

In addition, be aware that any narcotics prescription request, even if it comes from a fellow doctor, friend, or family member, could cause problems for your license. If your instinct is that a request is suspicious, it likely is. Medical professionals often suffer from substance abuse issues, so it’s important to also consider your own colleagues. Each year, many cases involving physicians who illegally divert narcotics to family, friends, or colleagues causes serious problems for doctor licenses.

Avoid Suspicious Prescribing Practices

Several prescribing practices will almost always raise red flags for law enforcement investigators. The first is practitioners who prescribe multiple controlled substances at once.

For example, if you prescribe one patient Soma, Xanax, and Oxycodone, it will certainly appear suspicious to drug enforcement regulators. If you must prescribe this way, again, make sure to document it carefully and enter it in the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, required by law. If a prescription is not medically necessary, don’t prescribe it, especially not in response to pressure from a patient.

A second issue that can raise red flags is when a doctor writes several prescriptions for similar opioids, in the same quantities for many patients, in the same day or week. You will be under even more scrutiny if patients travel long distances to see you when there are clinics nearer to them, or if you prescribe the same quantities for patients who all share the same last name, especially if they arrive in your office on the same day.

Sometimes addicted patients will arrive in the waiting room as a group, but pretend not to know each other to avoid suspicion. Alert your reception staff to these suspicious situations, and if you think any of them may be happening, avoid prescribing.

Consider Your Approach to Addiction Treatment

Finally, although Buprenorphine has incredible potential to help solve the opioid crisis, law enforcement agents are still vigilant about ensuring physicians don’t prescribe it in ways that support its usage outside of medical treatment. If you provide addiction therapy in your office rather than at a methadone clinic, make sure the patient in question has an addiction and is seeking additional treatment, rather than simply selling the Suboxone.

You should familiarize yourself with the guidelines set forth by the Medical Board of California, and be aware of requirements in some instances in which prescription and pain management contracts have to be in place between the physician and patient, and/or, where the patient should be evaluated by specialists.  You should always familiarize yourself with the proper standards of care.

Is Your License in Question? Seek Help Today

If your medical license is threatened because of issues with opioid prescriptions, it is always in your best interest to speak with a lawyer specialized in defending professional and physician licenses. These charges are serious, but an experienced doctor license defense lawyer may be able to assist you in regaining your license or reducing disciplinary action against you by the California medical board.

For a free review of your case, contact Scott J Harris, an experienced doctor license defense lawyer who can help at 310-361-8585.

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This blog is meant to be informational. It is not meant to be all-encompassing legal advice. If you are facing a situation involving your professional license, seek counsel from a licensed attorney.