Opioid addiction affects patients of every race, sex, and socioeconomic status. Overprescribing is a known cause of the opioid crisis. Various agencies have implemented requirements and programs to combat practitioner overprescribing; however, there can be adverse ethical consequences when regulations are used to influence physician behavior. We aimed to explore the ethical aspects of some of these interventions.
We reviewed various interventions for opioid prescribing through the lens of ethical inquiry. Specifically, we evaluated (1) requirements for educational programs for prescribers and patients, (2) prescription monitoring programs, (3) prescription limits, (4) development of condition-specific pain management guidelines, (5) increased utilization of naloxone, and (6) opioid disposal programs. We also evaluated patient satisfaction survey questions relating to pain.
The present analysis demonstrated that the following regulatory interventions are ethically sound: requirements for educational programs for prescribers and patients, robust prescription monitoring programs that cross state lines, increased prescribing of naloxone for at-risk patients, development of condition-specific pain management guidelines, improvement of opioid disposal programs, and elimination of pain-control questions from patient satisfaction surveys. However, implementation of strict prescribing limits without accommodation for procedure and patient characteristics may have negative ethical consequences.
Although the importance of addressing the current opioid crisis cannot be understated, as surgeons, we must examine ethical implications of any new regulations that affect musculoskeletal patient care.