PA: The bill would make it a crime for doctors to write a prescription of more than seven days for an opioid painkiller

Pa. might devise punishments for docs who give more than a week of opioid painkillers

The main sponsor of a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing more than seven days’ worth of opioids says it’s also time to consider stiffer penalties for doctors who overprescribe the highly addictive painkillers.

“It’s an area of the law we’re going to start looking into,” said state Sen. Gene Yaw. The Williamsport-area Republican said he expects lawmakers to hold a hearing this summer.

Yaw is the prime sponsor of the bill to impose the seven-day limit. The bill passed the Senate last week and could come up for a vote in the House this week. However it contains no criminal or civil penalties for doctors.

The bill would make it a crime for doctors to write a prescription of more than seven days for an opioid painkiller such as Oxycontin or Vicodin. Pennsylvania previously passed laws against opioid prescriptions of more than seven days for minors and for emergency room patients.

As with the law pertaining to minors, the one for adults contains exceptions, such as patients with cancer, terminal illness or patients who have had major surgery.

However, doctors would be required to document the reasons for the longer prescription. Also, doctors would have to talk to the patient about matters including correct use of opioids and risk of addiction.

Pennsylvania has already issued guidelines to prevent doctors from overprescribing opioids, which can be highly addictive. Pennsylvania’s biggest insurers have also greatly reduced the duration of prescriptions they will pay for.

The guidelines are intended to cut into long term use that can lead to dependence and addiction, or result in unfinished supplies that can fall into the hands of young people or others who might abuse the pills and become addicted.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also weighed in heavily, stressing to doctors that opioids are intended for severe short-term pain, and long-term use can result in dependence and increased tolerance and risk of overdose, respiratory failure and death. The CDC has further advised doctors to prefer other forms of treatment, such as non-opioid painkillers and physical therapy, for long-term pain.

The crackdown on opioid prescriptions has caused chronic pain patients to complain they are being denied long-term medications they legitimately need in order to function and be pain-free, and are suffering as a result.

Even the CDC guidelines, they say, have a chilling effect on doctors, causing doctors to drop and avoid chronic pain patients. They further argue such guidelines and laws come between doctors and patients, preventing doctors from making the appropriate medical decisions based on individual patients’ situations.

In 2017, 47,600 deaths in the United States were blamed on opioids, up from 8,048 in 1999, according to the federal government. However, pain sufferers and their advocates stress the majority, about 30,000, involved illegal opioids such as heroin or illegally-obtained prescription opioids

Yaw said his bill allows doctors to treat the individual needs of patients and isn’t designed to prevent people who legitimately need longer prescriptions from getting them. One benefit of the law, he said, might be to give more weight to doctors trying to convince patients long-term opioid use isn’t their best option.

“If that works and cuts down on people using it unnecessarily, so be it,” he said.

Yaw said the limit is a needed response to the opioid addiction and overdose crisis state officials say is responsible for 15 deaths per day in Pennsylvania.

Regarding criminal penalties for doctors, Yaw said he hasn’t decided whether it’s needed. “There may be many reasons against it. I think it’s worth looking into,” he said.

Some doctors around the U.S. have been prosecuted over opioids. But those cases tend to involve federal laws pertaining to things such as fraudulent prescriptions or trading prescriptions for money or sex.


9 Responses

  1. How does this nightmare continue to grow worse it boggles the mind.

  2. It figures, another Republican Senator who has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. CPP are not clothing, we are not one size fits all for dosage of medication. A Doctor, not a government moron should decide how much medication a patient needs. Most CPP’S have more than one, sometimes several diseases. I have muscle, bone, nerve, and lung diseases. (2) pills a day for my pain is torture.

    I have had my disease since 1992, I have been on hydrocodone since 1998, it is the only pain med that does Not get me high, it just dulls my pain so I can function like a normal human being. I am Not addicted to it. I am dependent on it just like diabetics, heart patients and every other patient that takes monthly prescription for their diseases.

    CPP’S did not cause your opioid crisis, you did, when you took away
    Their meds. But the major cause of the crisis is heroin and fentanyl not prescription medication.


  3. That’s their out isn’t it. They know so little about what they are talking about they still think folk that need them will get them. That’s what a U.S. Congressman said to me also. ‘We do not restrict doctors or prevent doctors from making the best decision for their patients in Wisconsin’.

  4. If there is one thing most healthy, powerful, happy people know these days, it is that there is zero pain in the world, if they aren’t aching, there is no good reason any one else should be either, …and they may play all day or look for monster under the bed to slay.

  5. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Now my doctor is retiring and his practice has decided to drop all their longtime chronic pain patients (they did not have that many) My doctor told me with all the paperwork now they would have to hire more staff so the doctors together decided to no longer prescribe opioids. Pretty soon, no one except the rich will get pain pills at all and still addicts will continue to buy them illegally and overdoses will stay at current levels….It is so scary now. Healthy people have no idea that they are one fall, one accident, one illness away from having chronic pain. They have no clue the hell that you are in living in chronic pain. I am tired of pain patients being the collective punching bag for the failure of the War on Drugs and the constant impotence of the DEA to stop the flood of illegal drugs into our country.

    • “Healthy people have no idea that they are one fall, one accident, one illness away from having chronic pain.”

      This is so true. My bro-in-law was a healthy active member of the Nat’l Guard and a new father of a precious baby with extremely special needs up until just a few weeks ago. He fell through the 2nd story of their shop (they had just bought a nice house and were moving in). Landed on his back – broke many vertebraes (sp?) – surgery somewhat unsuccessful, as he is still in a wheelchair and they don’t think he’ll be able to walk again. He also suffers from painful leg spasms. He was once a healthy young man … in just one second, he became a lifelong patient who will probably deal with severe pain for the rest of his life.

  6. I’m honestly shocked at the number of conservative lawmakers who are willing to abandon their principles when it comes to “evil drugs” or “protecting the children.” I thought a Nanny State was considered bad? Not when opioids are involved I guess. I thought government interference between patients and their doctors was bad? Hmm… I guess they’re willing to carve out an exception for stuff that’s “super, really important.”

    About the only conservative value Rep. Yaw is adhering to is his distrust of science: attacking the prescription “problem” nearly 8 years after prescriptions have peaked, even as they represent the vast *minority* of deaths (and falling).

    (Look, I don’t think the opioid issue is a political one to any great degree, and I don’t care what party you affiliate with: it’s just that I find this one lawmaker’s cognitive dissonance loathesome. He’s not helping.)

  7. I wasn’t aware that “lawmakers” were doctors. Isn’t that, once again, practicing medicine without a license??

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