WASHINGTON — Virginia doctors have been prescribing fewer opioid painkillers to patients across the Commonwealth.
It is one way the state is trying to tackle the opioid epidemic.
“The Board of Medicine passed emergency regulations to better define appropriate use of opioid medication for pain management,” Virginia State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine told WTOP.
“According to David Brown — who’s the director of the Department of Health Professions where the board sits — it’s having a positive effect,” Levine continued. “We’ve seen a drop in the amount of opioids prescribed and that’s a really good thing.”
The Roanoke Times reports there had been 1.27 million controlled substance prescriptions filled across the state in March. That dropped to just over a million in April and 1.16 million in May.
The more powerful opioids went from over 576,000 prescriptions in March to just more than 500,000 in May.
A state law on the issue is set to take effect in July, so officials are expecting another drop in prescriptions then.
The law requires prescribers to check the Prescription Monitoring Program to see what other controlled substances a patient is taking when a longer-term opioid prescription may be given.
“We actually had seen a drop before that because many physician leaders had already taken note of the issue,” explained Levine. “The Medical Society of Virginia was very active in terms of making sure its members were aware and disseminated CDC guidelines and others. I think there’s a big move afoot and the Board of Medicine regulations are just another critical step.”
For Levine and other medical professionals, this is all about the evolution of medicine and adjusting the ways patients are treated.
“Underlying a lot of this is how we manage pain,” Levine said. “So, we have to do a better job of understanding and managing pain and not jump to opioids where they are not necessary because most people who get addicted to opioids start in the world of ‘appropriate’ medicine thinking they are doing the right thing.”