The pros and cons of prosecuting doctors in fight against opioid abuse

By Matt Kuhrt

As the opioid addiction crisis continues to mount, the role of physicians who supply the drugs has led to prosecutions. A discussion in the New York Times looks at the potential positive and negative effects that might have on the larger opioid abuse picture.

While a precaution as simple as starting a conversation with patients may get lost in the shuffle, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported, even those who favor prosecution, such as Alan G. Santos, CEO of Avantha Solutions Inc. and former , associate deputy assistant administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control, recognize that very few doctors overprescribe painkillers knowingly.

Still, "doctors have legal responsibilities to ensure these powerful drugs don't get diverted for illicit purposes," Santos says.

While agreeing in principle that the doctors who truly act as drug dealers ought to face prosecution, Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, suggests the effect is unlikely to make a dent in the overall addiction problem: Patients will simply seek their fix elsewhere.

While opioids may not always be the best option for pain treatment, the threat of prosecution may be enough to push doctors away from them in the cases where they may well be, according to Diane Hoffman, director of the Law and Health Care program at the University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law. She points out that there's not always a straight line between a prescription and an overdose, and that "over the last decade and a half, physicians have also been targeted by law enforcement agents when they were legitimately trying to treat chronic pain."

To learn more:
- read the debate overview 
- here's Santos' piece
- check out Kolodny's viewpoint
- read Hoffman's commentary

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