A national heroin addiction epidemic has prompted research showing that abuse of opioids often is a precursor. People become addicted to the powerful pain relievers and move on to heroin, which typically is cheaper and, often, easier to obtain than prescription drugs.
To help stop opiate addiction at the front end, the state Department of Health, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, has issued new guidelines for dispensing opioids in hospital emergency departments.
But the guidelines themselves are put a precursor to action yet to be taken by the state Legislature. The guidelines do not suggest that ER personnel are not competent to prescribe pain relievers as indicated by a patient's condition. But they do raise awareness that some patients misuse the drugs, and recommend the lowest possible effective doses, consideration of alternative medications, and prescribing supplies that would last no longer than seven days.
When lawmakers return from their summer recess, they should take the biggest step by authorizing a statewide opioid prescription database to prevent addicts from getting multiple prescriptions and "doctor shopping."