BLUEFIELD — A new state law is now in effect that provides physicians protection if they are under pressure to prescribe opioids because of patient surveys.

Spearheaded by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, lawmakers adopted the anti-retaliation law to “alleviate any negative consequences for doctors who follow their best medical judgment and refuse to prescribe addictive, deadly painkillers.”

“Health care providers now have another tool to fight opioid abuse and help end senseless death in West Virginia,” Morrisey said. “Doctors, pharmacists and anyone else who prescribes or dispenses opioid prescriptions must now realize that state law allows them to follow their conscience and refuse to prescribe opioid pain medications in favor of non-addictive options.”

The problem has been, he said, doctors can be under pressure to prescribe opioids at least in part “because of a perverse assessment that relied too heavily upon patient satisfaction surveys.”

Senate Bill 273 makes it unlawful for any person or entity to threaten or punish a health care provider who refuses to administer, dispense or prescribe opioid painkillers. That includes any retaliation by reducing the provider’s privileges and/or compensation.

Rose Morgan, vice president of patient care services for Princeton Community Hospital, said PCH has been addressing this problem for several years.

“Yes, we do get some negative patient comments (related to prescriptions for pain),” she said. “They come in telling us they want them (opioids) ordered. When they don’t get it and get other pain management alternatives instead …. they are not always happy with us and it does negatively impact our patient satisfaction scores.”

But Morgan said the hospital, doctors and all staff want to do “what is right for the patient.”

“We do treat acute pain (with opioids),” she said. “That is what they are for. The important thing is to help direct the patient who needs medication for chronic pain management to more appropriate treatment.”

Opioids are only for temporary use for acute pain, she said, not long-term use.

Morgan said the hospital is “very supportive of our physicians” in doing what is right for the patient.

“It’s about giving the patients what they need and not what they want,” she said. “We are fully aware and supportive of the legislation.”

“Having the right to refuse will empower physicians to do the right thing and use their conscience,” said Dr. Bradley Henry, president of the West Virginia State Medical Association. “There’s going to be a learning curve in the medical field, but all in all it’s a good thing and a step in the right direction.”

Morrisey previously attacked hospital surveys and the incentives contained within. In July 2016, he called upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove three questions from its 32-question survey, all of which, he argued, encouraged doctors to over prescribe opioids.

That letter cited two studies in arguing nearly half of respondents improperly prescribed opioid painkillers in direct response to the survey’s questions. Morrisey suggested removing the questions would empower physicians to practice without fear of a poor survey score jeopardizing their compensation or employment.

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Charles Boothe at

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