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Achieving the Right Balance in Oversight of Physician Opioid Prescribing for Pain: The Role of State Medical Boards

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021


Uncertainty regarding potential disciplinary action may give physicians pause when considering whether to accept a chronic pain patient or how to treat a patient who may require long-term or high doses of opioids. Surveys have shown that physicians fear potential disciplinary acrion for prescribing controlled substances and that physicians will, in some cases, inadequately prescribe opioids due to fear of regulatory scrutiny. Prescribing opioids for long-term pain management, particularly noncancer pain management, has been controversial; and boards have investigated and, in some cases, disciplined physicians for such prescribing. While in virtually all of these cases the disciplinary actions were successfully appealed, news of the success was not often as well-publicized as news of the disciplinary actions, leaving some physicians confused about their potential liability when prescribing opioids for pain. The confusion has perhaps increased as a result of two relatively recent cases, one where a physician was successfully disciplined by a state medical board for undertreatment of his patients’ pain, and another where the physician was successfully sued for inadequate pain treatment.

Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2003

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