I-Team: Doctors sound off about concern, questions of new opioid law


The National Crusade Against Opioid Pain Medications hit a brick wall in Nevada Wednesday.  Nevada’s medical community told the State Medical Board that a new state law has gone too far and could cause doctors to retire or even leave the state.

The I-Team who’s been covering the opioid controversy extensively, was at a meeting when doctors sounded off.

It isn’t often you see doctors speak with one voice, and even rarer to see them wade into a political fight, but Wednesday they declared in unison that the law which took effect on Jan 1. is a mistake, is already causing problems for patients and is a medical crisis in the making.  The comments came during a medical board workshop designed to discuss how to punish doctors for wrongful prescriptions. 

“They’re all saying vote no now. Everyone agree? Any vote yeses now? No? No, 100 percent no,” said Dr. Shawn McGivney, Nevada physician.

For a post-holiday workshop in the middle of the week and the middle of the day, the packed turnout spoke volumes. Doctors and others unloaded on the  proposed enforcement measures that could see  them lose their medical licenses if they make mistakes in prescribing controlled substances, not just opioids. 

The proposed discipline stems from new regulations that took effect on Jan. 1 thanks to Assembly Bill 474, adopted by the legislature last year.  The bill was in response to the so-called opioid crisis.  Three days in, doctors say, the law is already having unintended consequences.

“We started hearing from providers and patients. We now have a whole new set of real concerns,” said Dr. Joe Hardy, Physician and Nevada State Senator.

“The relationships with my chronic pain patients is already changing,” said Dr. Andrew Pasternak, Washoe Medical Society. “Instead of a trusting relationship, I feel like I’m playing detective.”

“I’ve spoken to oncologists who say they will not prescribe pain medication anymore,” said Dr. Cole Sondrup, emergency room physician. “When it reaches the oncologists level, I think we need to address that. We have gone a little too far.”

“We have heard all the things I’m sure you’ve been hearing too about how are we going to do this. I’m not going to practice anymore. My patients don’t trust me anymore. It’s creating so many problems.”

Doctors in both Reno and Las Vegas acknowledge Assembly Bill 474 is already the law, and there’s not much that can be done, but they unanimously opposed further enforcement by the medical board on a law few understand and many fear.  

Some witnesses complained that pharmacies have taken it on themselves to reject all opioid prescriptions, causing severe suffering among chronic pain patients.  Emergency room physicians say new rules take away precious minutes when time can be the difference between life and death. 

Patient advocates told horror stories about doctors being raided by the DEA.  Pain management experts said the new law would likely send patients into the streets to seek relief for their pain.

“We’ve created a target rich environment for illegal, illicit suppliers to provide counterfeit and illegitimate and poorly compounded medications, and we will see an increase in drug overdoses,” said Dr. James Marx, Las Vegas Pain Management physician.

The witnesses urged the state board to not only halt the implementation of tougher enforcement but also to start the process of repealing AB 474 altogether, and to put patient care in the hands of doctors, not the state, they argued.  A few of them clearly saw recent I-Team reports about the plight of pain patients.

“I noticed there is a camera there,” said Dr. Shawn McGivney. “I think it is Channel 8 news. They have a whole program called Our Pain. I want to introduce it as evidence all the video links to their website of that is of many Nevadans saying, ‘I’m, going to suffer. This isn’t good for me.'”

Even though the workshop was supposed to discuss new heightened enforcement for prescribers, the attendees unloaded on the anti-opioid law that took effect on Jan. 1.  This will be re-visited in the next legislature, if not sooner. You can see those reports on our website.

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