CHARLESTON — This legislative session, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led a effort to empower doctors and pharmacists by giving each the right to refuse opioid-based medication to treat pain.

In February, he called upon lawmakers to adopt an anti-retaliation provision to eliminate negative consequences inflicted upon those who refuse to prescribe or dispense opioid pain medications.

Morrisey
Morrisey

This week, his leading-edge proposal, which became Senate Bill 273, was signed by Gov. Jim Justice and became law.

“The rules have changed, and West Virginia is leading the way,” Morrisey said. “Every prescriber and dispenser must know they now have a right to trust their conscience and refuse opioid pain medications in favor of a less addictive option.”

The bill, signed into law March 27, will take effect June 7.

It aims to ease the burden upon health care providers. Research indicates many have felt increased pressure to treat pain and do so with addictive painkillers, in part, because of a perverse assessment that relied too heavily upon patient satisfaction surveys.

Senate Bill 273 makes it unlawful for any person or entity to threaten or punish a health care provider who refuses to administer, dispense or prescribe opioid painkillers. That includes any retaliation by reducing the provider’s privileges and/or compensation.

Morrisey previously attacked hospital surveys and the perverse incentives contained within. In July 2016, he called upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove three questions from its 32-question survey, all of which he argued encouraged doctors to over prescribe opioids.

That letter cited two studies in arguing nearly half of respondents improperly prescribed opioid painkillers in direct response to the survey’s questions. He suggested removing the questions would empower physicians to practice without fear of a poor survey score jeopardizing their compensation or employment.

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