by Matt Crusan — Director, DEA Compliance and Services

The country is facing an epidemic as the rise of pain medication abuse and addiction spreads through big cities and into small towns, raising understandable concerns from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), physicians, attorneys, and the patients themselves.

Pain medicines — often opioids — are prescribed to patients to alleviate pain, allowing them to function more normally, but often the cost of this relief is eventual psychological and physical dependence.  Over time, these drugs have a high propensity for addiction and abuse.  Even the most dedicated physicians can find it difficult to know when a patient has transitioned from suffering patient to addict.

Most doctors want to do the right thing and provide their patients with the level of care they deserve.  Despite their good intentions, however, physicians can become overwhelmed by their daily patient workflow, and many times the addicted patient continues to receive prescriptions beyond the point of medical necessity.  The physician’s workflow can also interfere with their ability to document and screen their patients effectively, leading to legal trouble with the DEA and medical board.  As doctors feel the pressure from the DEA, they in turn can become reluctant to prescribe pain medication to patients.

The ones left to suffer are the legitimate pain patients.  When their doctor gets involved in a legal conflict, to whom can they turn?  Finding a new physician to treat their pain isn’t always easy; new physicians can be reluctant to prescribe opioids, even to patients that seem to experience real pain.  It is an unfortunate reality, but in today’s society, every person seeking pain medicine is viewed as a possible addict.

So, what happens when an unsuspecting doctor crosses the line?  Most turn to legal counsel to combat the DEA’s actions.  Attorneys with physician clients undergoing litigation can attest to how crucial it is for the investigated doctor to regain compliance; however, the attorneys may not be familiar with the nuances of DEA and medical board regulations.  By aligning themselves with a reputable regulatory compliance firm, law firms can benefit from thoughtful and objective insight from compliance experts and former DEA personnel.  By analyzing a physician’s overall level of compliance with DEA and state agency regulations, regulatory subject matter experts can advise attorneys as how to proceed in each case, giving legal professionals the peace of mind that they are receiving guidance from experienced compliance industry insiders.