How Lucid Lane Helps Reduce Doctor Liability in Prescribing Opioids
Opioids are prescribed to an estimated 50 million people each year in the US, yet few MDs are able to provide a plan for managing or safely tapering the use of opioids. Meanwhile, doctors face a number of risks when deciding whether or not to prescribe opioids to treat a patient in pain. Lucid Lane’s platform provides a way for prescribing doctors to monitor patients more easily and ensure they are doing everything they can to prescribe opioids safely.
Doctors prescribe opioids for many reasons: to manage acute pain stemming from an injury, to help with cancer-related pain, or as one tool among many to manage chronic pain. At Lucid Lane, we estimate that opioids are prescribed to 50 million people each year.
Unfortunately, few MDs are able to provide a plan for managing or safely tapering the use of opioids. A contributing factor in the opioid epidemic is that doctors are not trained on how to prescribe, monitor, and safely taper opioids for their patients — not to mention that this process takes time that most physicians lack.
This lack of training means that doctors often take on a lot of risk when prescribing opioids. While regulatory mandates aim to lower this liability, these guidelines can actually complicate matters. Here are some of the risks that doctors face when prescribing opioids — and how Lucid Lane can help.
What is a doctor’s liability for prescribing opioids?
Doctors face a number of risks when deciding whether or not to prescribe opioids to treat a patient in pain. Doctors who overprescribe opioids face review by state regulators and health insurance companies, not to mention the reputational risk that can result from a patient’s death. MDs also face medical malpractice lawsuits, restricted hospital privileges, and medical board disciplinary action for negligent prescribing.
A small but increasing number of physicians are starting to face criminal liability, too. Take the extreme case of Dr. Hsiu-Ying Tseng in 2016. Dr. Tseng was sentenced to 30-years-to-life in prison after being found guilty of second-degree murder for three patient drug overdose deaths. “This marked the first time in American history that a physician was held criminally liable for the murder of a patient by means of extreme recklessness in opioid prescribing,” according to a commentary piece by the Mayo Clinic. In total, Dr. Tseng played a role in at least 12 patient opioid deaths.
While well-intentioned, regulatory mandates or health system guidelines also complicate matters. As the CDC sought to stem the growing opioid crisis in 2016, it recommended that physicians avoid using opioids to treat chronic pain and prescribe lower doses — with tapering plans for those already prescribed high doses. For acute pain, the CDC recommended limiting opioid treatment to three days.
These recommendations are based on limited research and were never meant to become policy. However, many states have misinterpreted them and have since implemented regulations based on these limits.
“Unfortunately, since 2016, the CDC’s efforts to guide consistent practice have been transformed into an inconsistent patchwork of rigid regulations, fuelled partly by political pressure to tackle the public-health crisis more aggressively — even when such policies go beyond specialist advice,” wrote one expert in Nature. “At least 35 U.S. states have laws that regulate opioid prescriptions, most of which were passed after 2016 and formalize strict limits on dosage and treatment duration that differ from each other and from the CDC guidelines.”
Today, doctors are sometimes required to make opioid prescriptions contingent on patient education programs or prior attempts at non-opioid pain management. The upshot of that requirement is that many doctors don’t learn how to prescribe (and de-prescribe) safely.
Our platform provides a way for prescribing doctors to monitor patients more easily and ensure they are doing everything they can to prescribe opioids safely.
What are the risks to a pharmaceutical company of prescribing opioids?
Doctors aren’t the only party facing liability for the severity of the opioid epidemic. The pharmaceutical industry has played an integral role since the early 2000s. “Aggressive marketing campaigns spearheaded by pharmaceutical manufacturers persuaded the medical community to believe that narcotics could be safely prescribed for chronic pain without widespread risk of addiction,” noted the Mayo Clinic.
In 2018, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, pled guilty to criminal charges and reached an $8.3 billion settlement as a result of its role in the opioid crisis. The pharmaceutical company still faces thousands of cases from states and families who were impacted by the drug. The company also agreed to “reorganize” as a trust run “for the public benefit”. This trust will likely continue to produce OxyContin and other drugs aimed at treating addiction, probably with more government oversight.
How can doctors more safely prescribe opioids?
Whether this new trust truly benefits the public remains to be seen. And, it’s also clear that in many cases, opioids are necessary to treat patients who are in pain. Doctors need a way to prescribe this medical intervention responsibly.
Lucid Lane can help. Our platform provides a way for prescribing doctors to monitor patients more easily and ensure they are doing everything they can to prescribe opioids safely. We provide comprehensive support services: In addition to private telehealth visits and therapy services, patients can access 24/7 support, whether they are in crisis or simply have a question about treatment. We also provide mind-body therapies proven to reduce reliance on opioids and treat pain effectively. Our counselors monitor for addiction and help guide tapers when that is needed. We provide regular health checks to help track patient progress and coordinate care with prescribing doctors to ensure that patients are using opioids safely.
Visit us at Lucid Lane to learn more about how we empower people to prevent and stop medication and substance dependence with professional, licensed, and vetted counselors that you can trust.