Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pain Relief

Physician's monopoly over access to pain killers is criminal. Matt Yglesias points to Mark Kleiman
Physicians and their regulators are naturally concerned about the risk of iatrogenic (treatment-induced) drug dependency. Consequently, they have tended to be sparing in their use of opiate and opioid pain relievers, even when the pain involved is extreme and the patient’s short life expectancy, as in the case of terminal cancer patients, makes addiction a largely notional problem. Better professional education has made more recent cohorts of physicians less afraid of over-prescribing painkillers than their older colleagues, but the upsurge of prescription-analgesic abuse (especially of hydrocodone [Vicodin] and oxycodone [Percodan, Oxycontin]) has generated a backlash. [...]

Current policies are scaring physicians away from treating pain aggressively. Many doctors and medical groups now simply refuse to write prescriptions for any substance in Schedule II, the most tightly regulated group of prescription drugs, including the most potent opiate and opioid pain-relievers and the potent amphetamine stimulants. The opiate-and-stimulant combination the textbooks recommend for treating chronic pain is almost never given in practice for fear (a fear well in excess of the actual risk) of disciplinary action and criminal investigation for a physician prescribing “uppers and downers” together. It’s time to loosen up.
This is a great example of the problem with physician agency. They are not perfect agents, and thus we the patients suffer.

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