Regulations supported by government fueled opioid epidemic

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – In 2001, the federal government began grading hospitals and basing reimbursements on new pain management standards. Patients were repeatedly asked if their pain was well controlled.

“So doctors and hospitals felt that even if they were uncomfortable with using opioids, they were being judged on their pain control, and that fed into it,” former Pennsylvania physician general Dr. Carrie Delone said.

The government didn’t let up on grading hospitals this way until this month. For 17 years, hospitals felt pressured to prescribe opioids – even when they thought they shouldn’t.

Last year, then-U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, concerned about the dramatic surge in addiction, wrote a letter to the nation’s doctors – an unprecedented move.

The letter reads, in part: “It is important to recognize that we arrived at this place on a path paved with good intentions. Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely. This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain. The results have been devastating.”

If you get prescribed an opioid, you may need it, but Delone suggests asking why.

“Why am I taking this? Am I taking this for acute pain, so I might only be taking this for a day or a week, or am I taking this for chronic pain, which means I might be taking this for months or a year?” she said.

Delone says addiction is a genetic medical problem. If you or anyone in your family has a tendency toward addiction, your doctor needs to know that before prescribing an opioid. Even if there’s not addiction in your family, you’re still susceptible to addiction.

If you or a loved one needs help recovering from addiction, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline – 1-800-622-HELP(4357) – is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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