New Opioid Laws Seek To Curb Overprescribing

By Beth Leipholtz 09/26/18
The new rules set limits for the amount of opioids medical professionals can prescribe for pain relief from surgery, injury or illness.
doctor discussing medicine with a patient

As the opioid epidemic has continued to claim lives, more than two dozen states have established laws to limit the damage.

Of those two dozen, the most recent states to take action are Florida, Michigan and Tennessee, according to Harvard Health. The new rules set limits for the amount of opioids medical professionals can prescribe for pain relief from surgery, injury or illness. 

Opioid laws vary from state to state. While most states limit first-time opioid prescriptions to seven days, some states, such as Florida, Kentucky and Minnesota, give a three-day supply unless a medical professional can provide a reason for a week-long supply.

"For almost all acute pain problems, including after surgery, a week is usually sufficient," Dr. Edgar Ross, senior clinician at the Pain Management Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Harvard Health

Additionally, some states have established procedures that require doctors to take more steps when prescribing. In Florida, both physicians and pharmacists are required to take courses about prescribing practices. They must also search a drug database to make sure doctors aren’t doubling up on patients' prescriptions.

Massachusetts has a similar procedure in place, but some medical professionals say it’s not as simple as it sounds. 

"We have the ability to check the registry to see who else has prescribed it, but it's not integrated with electronic records,” Dr. Dennis Orgill, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Harvard Health. “If you have someone who needs opioids over the weekend, you can imagine the logistics of that." 

Another new law, this one in Ohio, allows doctors to override and refill acute pain prescriptions, but only after a patient has gone through the first prescription.

According to Harvard Health, patients will typically have to return to the doctor to get a prescription rather than getting a refill on the phone. If for some reason a refill is made over the phone, patients will end up visiting the pharmacy more often and make more copays as a result.

If doctors do not follow the new rules, they may face consequences. As a result, some patients that need prescriptions for chronic pain are not getting them, says Harvard Health.

"Many doctors now refuse to prescribe any opioids because of the fear of sanctions,” Ross told Harvard Health. “I have had several cancer patients whose pain was not well managed because of incorrect perceptions." 

Although there is no hard evidence of the effectiveness of the laws yet, some professionals see the numbers as heading in the right direction.

"Massachusetts' opioid legislation was signed into law in March of 2016. The overdose death rate then decreased by 8.3% in 2017, the first decrease since the beginning of the opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Karsten Kueppenbender, an addiction psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “While it's impossible to say the law caused the decrease, it's certainly a welcome association." 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.