Gov. Matt Bevin is correct that one way to combat the overdose crisis is to stop creating addicts, which is the goal of a new state law that limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to three days.
No one needs a month’s supply of addictive drugs for a sprained ankle or tooth extraction. Research shows that even small quantities of opioids prescribed for minor injuries increase the risk of long-term use.
Kentucky’s medical community, which, encouragingly, did not oppose the new limits, should move swiftly to put them into practice.
The law officially took effect June 29 but cannot be implemented until the state Board of Medical Licensure adopts regulations. The physician-controlled board should quickly develop rules for enforcing the limits while also protecting patients for whom long-term opiate treatment is appropriate.
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Most of the more than 1,400 people who died from drug overdoses in Kentucky last year likely started on prescription pills, some prescribed for minor injuries and pain.
One study found that patients being treated for an ankle sprain who received 30 or more pills as compared to fewer than 15 pills were twice as likely to fill an additional opioid prescription within three to six months. Eighty percent of heroin users started on prescription pills, according to another study.
Research and knowledge about treating pain have lagged behind the marketing of opioid painkillers.
The new limits on prescribing will save lives simply by making it easier for doctors to say no.