A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Alabama was among the top twenty (20) states nationally in number of drug overdose deaths each year. In an effort to combat this problem, the Alabama legislature recently passed several new laws to regulate pain management clinics and impose stiffer penalties upon persons who doctor shop to illegally obtain prescription pain killers.
The Alabama Pain Management Act requires that all physicians who provide pain management services must now register with the Board of Medical Examiners by January 1, 2014. The Act defines pain management services as those medical services that involve the prescription of controlled substances in order to treat chronic non-malignant pain. The registration requirement pertains to any physician or clinic that advertises or holds themselves out to be a provider of pain management services. Additionally, the Act requires that all pain management clinics appoint a medical director, who must have an unrestricted Alabama Medical License and must meet certain training criteria. Each clinic’s medical director must also register with the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
Another related new law provides that physicians can now allow their staff members to access the Prescription Drug Database to verify patients’ prescription history. Previously, only licensed physicians could access the database. The new law also allows Medicaid to access the database to check the controlled substance prescription history of patients who are enrolled in Medicaid.
Finally, another new law provides for stiffer penalties for those convicted of doctor shopping. The law provides that it shall be unlawful for any person to deceptively obtain a controlled substance from a physician by intentionally and knowingly withholding information from the physician that the person has obtained a prescription for the same controlled substance or another controlled substance of similar use from a different physician. Under the new law, doctor shopping is a Class A Misdemeanor upon the first offense, and a Class C Felony after four convictions.
My Two Cents:
It remains to be seen what, if any, impact these new laws will have on employers and injured employees involved in workers’ compensation claims. The new laws should make it easier for doctors to identify claimants who are doctor shopping, diverting, or abusing drugs. However, it is also forseeable that the new requirement that pain clinics appoint a medical director may effectively close the doors of the smaller pain clinics, thus decreasing the number of options available. In any event, hopefully the new laws will help carry out their intended effect of decreasing the ever-growing prescription drug abuse problem in the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson, LLC. Fish Nelson is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers’ compensation and related employer liability fields. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.
As a chronic pain patient in AL, we cannot afford to lose a single doctor, let alone a clinic of physicians willing to treat patients for chronic pain conditions today. The DEA is tyrannical when it comes to its fear mongering and harassment of the precious few pain management doctors we have here. Therefore in my opinion, and with it I know I am not alone, is that ANY added regulations by the state (or any governing body) is absolutely unnecessary, unhelpful in stopping the abuse of the medications needed by true pain patients, and too costly to the pain patients that need medication to survive. It also further threatens the practices and careers of honorable doctors who help those patients they see who have true chronic pain. Whatever damage may have resulted from people who knowingly abuse the medicines required by patients for pain control is miniscule in comparison to the loss of quality of life, or even the very lives, of the pain patients who are unable to find medical treatment due to the rarity of physicians willing to provide them with necessary prescription medicine.
This is a witch hunt in an area of medicine that is already besieged upon by government rules, regulations, and agencies, and is pushed to the point of being on the brink of extinction.