Controversy over opioid use isn’t limited to their potential long-term health impacts and the overdose epidemic sweeping the nation. Prominent pain specialist Dr. Lynn Webster, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), is under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) following a rash of patient deaths related to opioid use.

Several patients have filed medical malpractice lawsuits against the doctor, CNN reports. One medical malpractice suit claimed that one of Dr. Webster’s patients was taking more than 40 pills per day when she died. In all, 20 patients died while under Dr. Webster’s care, the doctor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It is a tragedy of the worst kind when a patient suffers from abject pain and dies, not from a result of treatment, but in spite of it,” Webster told CNN.

Even under a doctor’s care, opioid use can be dangerous.

Ironically, Dr. Webster gained fame for his frequent talks on the safe use of opioids. He even developed the Opioid Risk Tool checklist to help doctors determine whether patients legitimately needed pain medication or if they merely sought a painkiller high. 

The deaths of patients under the care of a leading opioid expert underscore the potential for harm when taking these medications. Prescribed opioids, including morphine, codeine, and oxycodone are related to the illicit drug heroin. They’re all derived from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. However, the natural origin does not mean opioids safe. 

Little is known about the long-term impacts of opioid use. Meanwhile, pill-related overdoses in the United States have more than tripled since 1990, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA, in 2013, announced increased labeling requirements to warn patients and doctors that extended release tablets should only be prescribed if no safer alternative exists. The FDA is also requiring manufacturers to study the long-term impacts of these powerful painkillers.

Patients who take too many opioids may die from overdose, which may have happened at Dr. Webster’s Lifetree Pain Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bruce Webb, whose wife, Tina, died while under Dr. Webster’s care told CNN, “One day she took a little bit too much medication and felt good.” He adds, “So then she did it again, and did it again, and did it again, and then pretty soon the 30 pills wasn’t working.”

Patients taking opioids can become addicted, robbing them of their ability to live a full life. Do you think doctors prescribe opioids too liberally?

Image by Jonathan Silverberg via Flickr 

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