Conventional wisdom argues that the opioid epidemic has resulted from excessive opioid prescribing, but the evidence shows just the opposite. Restrictions on opioid prescribing have pushed opioid users into the black market, where they overdose on illicit fentanyl, not prescription opioids (mainly because they cannot assess potency). Reason’s Jacob Sullum has a nice recent piece on this point.
Yet policymakers keep doubling down on the conventional wisdom. The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, has just anounced new scrutiny of doctors who prescribe opioids:
US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling has sent letters to “a number of medical professionals” alerting them that their opioid prescribing practices “have been identified as a source of concern.”
In a statement released Thursday, Lelling said that the professionals who received the warning had prescribed opioids to a patient within 60 days of that patient’s death or to a patient who subsequently died from an opioid overdose.
The letters inform the professionals that it’s illegal to prescribe opioids “without a legitimate medical purpose, substantially in excess of the needs of the patient, or outside the usual course of professional practice.” It acknowledges that the prescriptions may have been medically appropriate, however.
Such actions will scare medicial professionals into even less prescribing, force more patients into the black market, and increase the frequency of opioids overdoses.