Can doctors face liability for tapering opioids in stable patients?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2021 | Professional License Issues |

A study by physicians and public health administrators at the University of California Davis and which was published in the JAMA provided evidence that stable opioid patients suffered significant risks of mental health crises and even overdoses when forced by their doctors to taper their pain medications.

Those patients in the study were long-term users of opioid drugs to treat chronic pain conditions. They suffered far higher rates of suicidal ideation and behavior, anxiety and depression, as well as enhanced risks of overdosing when compared with other stable patients who did not have their medication reduced.

A Catch-22 for physicians?

Doctors are understandably concerned about over-prescribing opiates that could cause their patients to become addicted or for the pills to be sold on the street, furthering the addiction crisis. Yet, the harm they face for the consequences of tapering otherwise stable patients and forcing them to experience intractable pain could put the physicians’ licenses in jeopardy should the patients commit suicide as a result.

Tapering dosages could bring about a series of adverse physical and mental health repercussions for patients that might lead to allegations of medical malpractice and even a review of the physician’s license to practice medicine.

Since even medically supervised opiate withdrawal can be grueling, it can be challenging for a doctor to discern which patients may be at more risk of experiencing these adverse events. Vulnerable patients who suffer greatly might decide that they can no longer continue to endure the pain and attempt or succeed at suicide.

What is a doctor to do?

There is no crystal ball to interpret the consequences of a doctor’s medical decisions with their patients. If you are a doctor who feels that your license could be on the line, waste no time in seeking guidance about how best to protect your livelihood and license.