Hospitals may be held accountable if surgical patients become addicted to opioids

Prescription and pills
Should hospitals be punished when surgical patients become addicted to opioids? (Getty/Gti337)

Some healthcare experts are calling for hospitals be punished for overprescribing painkillers to patients after surgery. 

Many providers prescribe opioids without understanding the risks of withdrawal and how easily they can lead to addiction, according to an NPR article.

"We're in the midst of a severe opioid epidemic, caused by the overprescribing of opioids," Andrew Kolodny, M.D., director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told the publication. "Putting hospitals on the hook for the consequences of aggressive opioid prescribing makes sense to me." 

RELATED: Why healthcare must treat opioid addiction like hospital-acquired infections 

However, punishing hospitals could have implications for patient experience scores, which in turn would impact reimbursement revenue. Hospitals could get lower scores on patient surveys that ask patients how well their provider managed their pain. 

Overprescribing of opioids is a main contributor to the opioid epidemic. A survey of doctors conducted last year found that more than half believe physicians that handle narcotics should undergo additional training. The opioid epidemic is also a key issue for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines. 

The issue isn't restricted to hospitals. Physicians in all settings often struggle to strike a balance between reducing opioid prescriptions and treating patients' pain. Patient needs can vary widely, and the emphasis on cutting back on opioids can have serious repercussions for some pain patients. 

Some physicians have even faced criminal charges for opioid prescriptions, including murder charges in overdose cases. 

RELATED: The hidden consequence of the opioid epidemic—hospitals overrun with cases of disease from IV drug use 

Clinicians often don't have sufficient guidance on appropriate prescribing for acute pain, according to the NPR article. New guidelines have addressed long-term pain management, but have offered little on post-surgical pain and other situations that can lead to addiction. 

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center recently took matters into its own hands and developed a set of post-surgical guidelines to encourage physicians to curb opioid prescriptions. The guidelines are tied to the specific type of surgery the patient underwent, and research shows that the guides reduced post-surgical opioid prescriptions by more than half without hindering patients' pain management.  

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