Arkansas Approves Doctor Rules Aimed At Slowing Opioid Abuse

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas panel has given final approval to regulations that will require doctors who prescribe high doses of opioid pain medication to follow guidelines meant to limit potential abuse, including exploring alternative treatments and limiting prescriptions.

The Legislative Council’s Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee approved the regulations Tuesday despite repeated complaints from patients who said the rules will force them to live with more pain, the AP reports.

The Arkansas State Medical Board in April endorsed the rules, which are based on recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are aimed at reducing the abuse of opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine.

Some patients have said they’re concerned the rules will prevent them from getting the necessary medications.

“I just got to where I could hold down a job,” said Cabot resident Lindsey Black, who said her doctor has already begun reducing her dosage in preparation for the new rules. “I just got to where I could take care of my daughter.”

The rules don’t limit what doctors can prescribe, but rather outline steps doctors should already be taking, said Kevin O’Dwyer, a Medical Board attorney.

“This is the road map for physicians to be able to continue to treat their patients as they’ve been treating them in an effective, safe and appropriate way,” he said. “The perceived fear, I can’t really respond to that because of a lot of it, quite frankly, is not a legitimate fear.”

The rules would require doctors to explore alternative treatments when prescribing daily doses of more than 50 morphine milligram equivalents for chronic pain. Doctors will also have to avoid increasing a patient’s dosage to above 90 morphine milligram equivalents per day and “carefully justify a decision” for such a high dosage when it is prescribed. The new rules also will limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain, such as after surgery, to a seven-day supply.

The subcommittee originally approved the rules last month, but Republican Sen. Terry Rice asked the Legislative Council to refer them back to the subcommittee.

“Regardless of what we say this rule will allow, the circumstances is (doctors) are cutting them all back,” said Rice, who has taken medication for chronic pain. “Time is needed to find a balance of treatment and regulation.”

The Legislative Council granted the subcommittee the authority to give final approval to the rules because the council isn’t meeting this month. O’Dwyer said the rules will go into effect in less than two weeks.