U.S. Attorney Issues Warning to Opioid Prescribers
BOSTON – As part of a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts has warned a number of medical professionals that their opioid prescribing practices have been identified as a source of concern.
In a letter sent this week, United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling informed a number of prescribers that a data review identified them as having 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 letter reminds physicians that although prescriptions may be medically appropriate, the law prohibits prescribing opioids without a legitimate medical purpose, substantially in excess of the needs of the patient, or outside the usual course of professional practice.
“The opioid crisis is killing tens of thousands of people a year, including thousands in Massachusetts,” said U.S. Attorney Lelling. “One source of opioids – used for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes – is medical professionals, who have an obligation always to act in patients’ best interests. In the midst of an opioid epidemic, that obligation is more important than ever before. Through this effort, we’re trying to educate prescribers who may be improperly dispensing these drugs, stem the flow of opioids to the public and, ultimately, save lives and reduce opioid addiction rates.”
In 2017, approximately 2,000 Commonwealth residents died of opioid-related overdoses and, in the first six months of this year, there were 657 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts. While the amount of opioids prescribed and sold in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999, the overall amount of pain reported by Americans during this period has not changed; the opioid epidemic was caused, in part, by the widespread over-prescription of opioid-based medications.
The Department of Justice is committed to reducing the numbers of opioid deaths and new addictions by monitoring prescription practices. Through this effort and others, the Department aims to reduce the impact of this crisis in our communities by notifying prescribers that their patients have died either as a result of or close in time to receiving an opioid prescription. By doing so, we reduce the risk of unused prescriptions being diverted for non-medical use by those whom the prescription was never intended. At this point, the Department has made no determination that the prescribers receiving these letters have violated the law; the goal is to induce these medical professionals to take stock of their prescribing practices and make any necessary adjustments.