The following editorial appeared in The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register on Dec. 30:
While federal agencies seem deadlocked over even voluntary guidelines for those who prescribe opioid painkillers, the issue is being tackled in the Mountain State.
A set of 10 guidelines for prescribing pain pills in hospital emergency rooms was been developed by the West Virginia Hospital Association. The work was done through a panel of emergency room doctors and nurses with experience in both the good and the bad opioid painkillers such as OxyContin can do.
Reports from law enforcement and health care professionals makes the challenge clear: The path to drug addiction for many people begins with illnesses or injuries, for which they were prescribed opioid painkillers. Addictions to them can develop, sometimes resulting in reliance on the pills themselves and sometimes leading abusers to heroin and/or other illegal opioids.
But in addition to that anecdotal evidence, there are hard facts to back up concern about abuse of prescription painkillers. Our state has the third-highest rate of pain pill prescriptions per 100 people in the entire country.
Health care professionals have all the right motives in prescribing drugs to alleviate pain. For some victims of injury or illness, legal opioids are the only answer to unbearable suffering.
But the professionals are well aware of the need to be more cautious in handing out painkillers. Expect many to embrace the hospital association guidelines, which involve both initial prescriptions and follow-ups for patients.
Good for the association, and good for hospitals – and other health care professionals – who make use of the voluntary guidelines. Will they eliminate drug abuse in West Virginia? Of course not. But they are a very important move in a many-faceted campaign to at least curb a terrible scourge in our state.