By Jeffrey Grolig, MD, JD, Guest Columnist
“Don’t do it!” is the advice often given to brand new physicians about whether to specialize in pain medicine. Increasing numbers of doctors are being fined, disciplined or arrested due to scrutiny caused by the nation’s opioid crisis. Every single opioid prescription, even the mildest painkiller, is being tracked, and prescription drug database searches tell the DEA and state board investigators who to watch.
The unfortunate innocent victims of this crisis have been those legitimate patients who suffer in chronic pain, with up to 100 million in the United States alone. Each time a physician or pharmacy is attacked, thousands of pain patients must pay the price.
A pharmacy in my northern California town recently closed after the owner was charged with 200 counts of failing to properly keep records. Each count carries a $20,000 fine.
A local physician’s license was restricted for failure to warn in writing about the risks of combining sleeping pills with opioids. This family physician had already spent $56,000 in legal fees for previous documentation lapses.
A pulmonary specialist with English as his second language was arrested for prescribing codeine-containing cough syrup to four undercover DEA agents posing as patients. He is facing 20 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
I still accept pain patients, but my background as an attorney compels me to use “universal precautions,” something I advise every physician who prescribes opioids to do. This boils down to following what I call “The 7 Golden Rules of Opioid Prescribing.” If you, as the patient, understand that your doctor must follow these 7 golden rules, it will make it much easier for you to obtain excellent pain management, including opioids.
I developed the 7 golden rules by analyzing the most common documentation lapses of doctors who were disciplined or prosecuted. I included them when I wrote the “Physician Primer: Prescribe Like a Lawyer” to empower doctors to think and practice like a lawyer and not lose their careers over simple documentation errors.
If you write a cover letter like the one below to your current or prospective physician, touching on each and every one of these 7 golden rules, your pain control will vastly improve, I promise.
#1 I have a legitimate medical reason for needing opioids. My medical diagnosis is… (be specific: examples include diabetic neuropathy, failed spine surgery, spinal stenosis, CRPS, etc.). Attached is my MRI report (or EMG, CT, X-ray, Bone Scan, lab test, etc.) proving this.
#2 I am not now, nor have I ever been addicted to prescription medication, illegal drugs or alcohol.
#3 I have no depression, psychosis or bipolar disorder.
#4 I understand all the risks of opioids and related medications, as well as my options for all non-opioid alternative treatments.
#5 I am not taking benzodiazepines and drinking alcohol.
#6 I have attached my last 12 months of medical records (not applicable if you have been with the same physician for one year).
#7 These records reflect that I am an honest, compliant and responsible patient.
If you do not meet these criteria, it means you are in a higher risk category and would be better managed at a university medical center or a teaching hospital. To my knowledge, the DEA or state medical board has never raided a teaching hospital or university medical center.
The best way a patient can signal to me they are responsible and low risk is to write a letter covering each of the 7 golden rules, attached to one year’s worth of medical records. This essentially does my work for me, and it makes it easy for me to decide whether or not to accept the patient.
If your doctor still won’t budge, hand him my free “Primer Flyer,” a pamphlet that explains risk management, that’s available on my website: ThePhysicianPrimer.com.
If all else fails, have him watch my YouTube video on The 7 Golden Rules of Opioid Prescribing for Doctors.
Jeffrey W. Grolig, MD, JD, is a board-certified specialist in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He has taught at UC Davis Medical Center in both the departments of Family Practice and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Dr. Grolig has formerly worked as a licensed attorney and has authored 6 books.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.