CHARLESTON – Four West Virginia cities have filed a lawsuit against the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, alleging its misinformation of dangerous pain management standards encouraged the over-prescription of opioids in the state.

The JCAHO sets standards and certifies virtually every health care organization in the United States and West Virginia. Certification is viewed by health care organizations as critical to their continued operation, according to the Nov. 2 lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Charleston, Huntington, Ceredo and Kenova claim in 2001, JCAHO announced a new set of pain management standards.

In a campaign to explain the standards, JCAHO spread misinformation about the addictive nature of opioids, which included statements such as, “Some clinicians have inaccurate and exaggerated concerns about addiction, tolerance and risk of death. This attitude prevails despite the fact there is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control,” according to the suit.

An April 13, 2016, letter signed by 61 health care professionals informed JCAHO that “the pain management standards continue to encourage unnecessary, unhelpful and unsafe pain treatments that interfere with primary disease management,” and “foster dangerous pain control practices, the endpoint of which is often the inappropriate provision of opioids with disastrous adverse consequences for individuals, families and communities,” according to the suit.

According to Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), which built the coalition that sent the letter, JCAHO “responded defensively” and denied “any relationship between its pain management standards and opioid overprescribing.”

The lawsuit seeks class action status in part to enjoin JCAHO from enforcing its dangerous standards nationwide. It also seeks damages to remedy the impact of JCAHO’s continued promulgation and enforcement of the standards. The lawsuit is unique in its approach and is the product of ongoing, intensive research on how to stem the opioid epidemic plaguing West Virginia and the rest of the nation. 

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams believes that this is the next logical step in the city’s role as a nationwide leader in the fight against opioid addiction. 

“This lawsuit is a critical move toward eliminating the source of opioid addiction and holding one of the most culpable parties responsible,” Williams said. “For too long, JCAHO has operated in concert with opioid producers to establish pain management guidelines that feature the use of opioids virtually without restriction. The JCAHO standards are based on bad science, if they are based on any science at all.”

Williams said the cities need to take this opportunity to prevent a new generation of individuals from becoming addicted to opioids.

“At the same time, we need resources to help those who are suffering to recover and return to productive lives,” Williams said.

The plaintiffs are represented by special counsel Talcott Franklin P.C., The Webb Law Centre, PLLC, and City Attorney Scott Damron.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number:

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