California Medical Association Stands Alone Against Prescription Drug Reform

The California Medical Association should get over its reactionary opposition to reform that would curb the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic.

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new painkiller prescription guidelines recommending that doctors check state prescription drug databases before prescribing opioids to a patient. This simple tool has been proven to reduce overprescribing, but only when doctors are required to use it.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden was blunt: “The prescription overdose epidemic is doctor-driven. …It can be reversed in part by doctors’ actions.”

But the doctors’ lobby in California refuses to get on board.

A bill authored by state Senator Ricardo Lara, SB 482, would require doctors to check California’s CURES system when prescribing opioids for the first time, and annually thereafter. The database will give doctors information they need to make safe prescribing decisions, identify patients who may be at risk of addiction and help those who may need treatment.

The California Medical Association has fought the idea since 2013 when they got it stripped from legislation by former Senator Mark DeSaulnier. In 2014 doctors opposed Proposition 46, which would have required use of the database along with other patient safety reforms. Their TV ads made false threats about hackers stealing patient information that were roundly debunked.  Last year, as SB 482 made its way through the Senate, CMA complained that the bill would require doctors to use a system that wasn’t working, despite explicit provisions to the contrary, and accused the legislature of 'practicing medicine.'  CMA threw up their alarm flags again this week in an op-ed after the Sacramento Bee endorsed the bill.

They are standing on increasingly lonely ground as national, bipartisan agreement on this issue mounts. The U.S. Congress, legislatures in 22 states, the nation's largest local public health departments, and even Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie have embraced prescription databases as a key tool to reducing the opioid overdose epidemic.

In sheer numbers, more people die of drug overdose every year in California than in any other state. 4500 people – 12 people every day – die of drug overdoses in California, and most of those deaths are related to prescription opioids like Oxycontin, or its street drug corollary, heroin.

The scale of this overdose crisis leaves no excuse for medical providers who refuse to use a tool that could save so many lives.

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