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Study: Fla. doctors move away from stronger opioids in wake of state law

July 15, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A 2011 Florida law banning most direct dispensing of the strongest opioid medications by physicians appears to have succeeded in steering doctors toward the dispensing of less addictive pain medications, a study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute suggests.

The study from the nonprofit research organization, using prescription data from the first three to six months following individuals’ work-related injuries, documents increased use of less addictive pain medications such as ibuprofen and tramadol since adoption of the state law. While the law does allow physicians to continue to prescribe stronger opioids and send patients to pharmacies to receive the medications, the study found no evidence of change in the percentage of patients receiving stronger opioids from pharmacies.

This indicates that Florida physicians may be moving away from prescribing the stronger medications now that they do not have a direct economic incentive to do so, study authors state.

“This study provides tentative evidence that is consistent with patients of physician-dispensers receiving more opioids than necessary,” said Richard Victor, executive director of the Workers Compensation Research Institute. “If this evidence is correct, it could shift the policy debate from whether or not there are substantial benefits to some patients from physician dispensing, to whether or not there are substantial harms to some patients from physician dispensing.”

The research found that after the 2011 law took effect, only 0.5% of injured workers received physician-dispensed stronger opioids; the law does provide some exceptions allowing the practice to continue. The percentage of workers receiving the stronger opioid medications dropped from 14.5% before the law was enacted to 12.4% after enactment.          

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