A group of Washington state officials and medical executives have begun working to draft guidelines for prescribing narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin. Group members are responding to the threat posed a growing number of deaths associated with this group of drugs, which also includes endorphin, fentanyl and methadone. They join North Carolina and Utah, which are working on similar guidelines. However, the national climate for these measures is mixed. For example, the Drug Enforcement Agency recently overturned a policy barring physicians from writing multiple 30-day scripts for narcotic painkillers.
As currently drafted the rules, which would be voluntary through 2007, would set a limit of 120 milligrams of morphine or its equivalent per day for chronic pain sufferers, though end-of-life cases such as terminal cancer should be exempt. For dosages above that level, the guidelines recommend that family physicians refer the patient to a specialist.
Right now, dosages are hitting 150 mg to 250 mg per day, an amount the group sees as excessive and possibly dangerous. The state's Department of Labor and Industries attributes 32 deaths to the drug between 1996 and 2002. Average daily dosage levels rose 50 percent, to 132 mg, during the same period.
Find out more about the narcotics guidelines:
- read this piece in the Yakima Herald Republic
- review the DEA's new rule, "Issuance of Multiple Prescriptions for Schedule II Controlled Substances" (.pdf)