W.Va. AG Urges Doctors, Pharmacists to Follow Conscience and Embrace Anti-Opioid Law

Updated 1 year ago Edited from a Press Release
CHARLESTON — Health care providers can now follow their conscience and refuse opioid-based medication to treat pain thanks to a legislative provision spearheaded by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The Attorney General called upon lawmakers to adopt an anti-retaliation law to alleviate any negative consequences for doctors who follow their best medical judgment and refuse to prescribe addictive, deadly painkillers. The first-of-its-kind provision gained passage as part of Senate Bill 273 and took effect this month. 

“Health care providers now have another tool to fight opioid abuse and help end senseless death in West Virginia,” Attorney General 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 provision aims to ease the burden upon health care providers. Research indicates many have felt increased pressure to treat pain with dangerous and addictive painkillers, 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.

“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.”
The Attorney General 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. The Attorney General 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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