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Tennessee tightens restrictions on doctors who prescribe opioids

In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic, Tennessee is enacting two laws that restrict the prescription of these potent pain medications by doctors in the state and to establish harsh penalties for doctors who overprescribe them. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he hopes the legislation will reduce the number of opioids in our state.

Effective July 1, Tennessee physicians will have less discretion than they currently have in writing prescriptions for more than a three-day opioid regimen. The following are among the new rules:

  • Non-opioid options must be prescribed first.
  • 10-day prescriptions are only allowed only for certain diagnoses.
  • Patients who've had surgery are limited to a 20-day prescription.
  • 30-day prescriptions are allowed only if there's a "medical necessity."

The Tennessee Medical Association (TMA) has been working to help physicians comply with the new regulations. A TMA lobbyist, who says, "We just passed the most stringent law in the country," explains that the group wants to help prevent doctors from "running afoul of regulation."

Physicians are also concerned that the new laws could increase their susceptibility to medical malpractice lawsuits. The TMA representative says that doctors are likely to avoid giving patients more than a three-day prescription of opioids. Some may avoid prescribing them by referring patients to a pain clinic. These clinics are included in the exemptions that the law provides. However, they have to follow strict regulations when prescribing opioids.

Doctors can face civil legal risks for both overprescribing and underprescribing pain medication. However, we more often hear of malpractice suits involving the former than the latter. Certainly, the risks associated with abusing opioids are well-documented. Loved ones of those who have succumbed to overdoses of opioids prescribed by a physician should determine what their legal options are for holding that physician liable.

Source: Nashville Public Radio, "Tennessee Doctors In Training Mode As Nation's Tightest Opioid Restrictions Take Effect," Blake Farmer, June 08, 2018

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