Oregon Medical Board Relaxes Restrictions On Opioid Prescribers

The Oregon Medical Board has recently made adjustments to its policies on opioid prescriptions, providing doctors with more flexibility in prescribing high doses of opioid painkillers. This change comes after years of strict regulations aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic, which was fueled by aggressive marketing from manufacturers and subsequent overprescribing by doctors.

The Oregon Medical Board acknowledges that its previous crackdown on opioid prescribing had unintended consequences. In a newsletter distributed on March 4, the board’s medical director, David Farris, openly admitted that some clinicians had refrained from long-term pain management due to fear of facing board sanctions. Farris expressed a desire for a different outcome, stating, “The board is well aware some number of clinicians have shied away from long-term pain management in part or in whole for fear of board sanctions. We wish it weren’t so.”

While the board possesses the authority to suspend or revoke medical licenses, it typically opts for temporary limitations on doctors’ practices instead. Nonetheless, the fear of scrutiny by the board has had a significant impact on doctors, leading to cautious prescribing practices.

The Oregon Medical Board announced its “updated stance” in early January, amending its pain management guidelines posted on its website. The revised statement eliminates previous maximum dosage guidelines for treating chronic pain, emphasizing the need for doctors to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of opioid treatment for each patient. Additionally, doctors are still expected to use state databases to ensure that patients are not engaging in doctor-shopping to fuel their addiction.

Previously, the board’s pain management policy mandated that doctors limit opioid prescriptions to a “50 Morphine Equivalent Dose” when treating acute pain. However, this dosage restriction has now been removed. The current statement emphasizes the importance of conducting patient-centered evaluations to determine appropriate Morphine Equivalent Dose (MED) limitations for each unique patient.

The relaxation of restrictions by the Oregon Medical Board aligns with a broader shift away from policies that required doctors to rapidly taper patients off high doses of painkillers. This shift reflects a growing understanding of the complexities surrounding chronic pain management and the need for individualized treatment approaches.

While this change may raise concerns about the potential for increased opioid prescriptions, it is essential to recognize that the medical board’s intention is to strike a balance between addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring that patients with legitimate pain management needs receive appropriate care.