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PDFWAC 246-919-850

Intent and scope.

The rules in WAC 246-919-850 through 246-919-985 govern the prescribing of opioids in the treatment of pain.
The Washington state medical quality assurance commission (commission) recognizes that principles of quality medical practice dictate that the people of the state of Washington have access to appropriate and effective pain relief. The appropriate application of up-to-date knowledge and treatment modalities can serve to improve the quality of life for those patients who suffer from pain as well as reduce the morbidity, mortality, and costs associated with untreated or inappropriately treated pain. For the purposes of these rules, the inappropriate treatment of pain includes nontreatment, undertreatment, overtreatment, and the continued use of ineffective treatments.
The diagnosis and treatment of pain is integral to the practice of medicine. The commission encourages physicians to view pain management as a part of quality medical practice for all patients with pain including acute, perioperative, subacute, and chronic pain. All physicians should become knowledgeable about assessing patients' pain and effective methods of pain treatment, as well as become knowledgeable about the statutory requirements for prescribing opioids including co-occurring prescriptions. Accordingly, these rules clarify the commission's position on pain control, particularly as related to the use of controlled substances, to alleviate physician uncertainty and to encourage better pain management.
Inappropriate pain treatment may result from a physician's lack of knowledge about pain management. Fears of investigation or sanction by federal, state, or local agencies may also result in inappropriate treatment of pain. Appropriate pain management is the treating physician's responsibility. As such, the commission will consider the inappropriate treatment of pain to be a departure from standards of practice and will investigate such allegations, recognizing that some types of pain cannot be completely relieved, and taking into account whether the treatment is appropriate for the diagnosis.
The commission recognizes that controlled substances including opioids may be essential in the treatment of acute, subacute, perioperative, or chronic pain due to disease, illness, trauma or surgery. The commission will refer to current clinical practice guidelines and expert review in approaching cases involving management of pain.
The medical management of pain should consider current clinical knowledge, scientific research, and the use of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic modalities according to the judgment of the physician. Pain should be assessed and treated promptly, and the quantity and frequency of doses should be adjusted according to the intensity, duration, impact of the pain, and treatment outcomes. Physicians should recognize that tolerance and physical dependence are normal consequences of sustained use of opioids and are not the same as opioid use disorder.
The commission is obligated under the laws of the state of Washington to protect the public health and safety. The commission recognizes that the use of opioids for other than legitimate medical purposes poses a threat to the individual and society. The inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances, including opioids, may lead to drug diversion and abuse by individuals who seek them for other than legitimate medical use. Accordingly, the commission expects that physicians incorporate safeguards into their practices to minimize the potential for the abuse and diversion of controlled substances.
Physicians should not fear disciplinary action from the commission for ordering, prescribing, dispensing or administering controlled substances, including opioids, for a legitimate medical purpose and in the course of professional practice. The commission will consider prescribing, ordering, dispensing or administering controlled substances for pain to be for a legitimate medical purpose if based on sound clinical judgment. All such prescribing must be based on clear documentation of unrelieved pain. To be within the usual course of professional practice, a physician-patient relationship must exist and the prescribing should be based on a diagnosis and documentation of unrelieved pain. Compliance with applicable state or federal law is required.
The commission will judge the validity of the physician's treatment of the patient based on available documentation, rather than solely on the quantity and duration of medication administration. The goal is to control the patient's pain while effectively addressing other aspects of the patient's functioning, including physical, psychological, social, and work-related factors.
These rules are designed to assist physicians in providing appropriate medical care for patients.
The practice of medicine involves not only the science, but also the art of dealing with the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, and treatment of disease. The variety and complexity of human conditions make it impossible to always reach the most appropriate diagnosis or to predict with certainty a particular response to treatment.
Therefore, it should be recognized that adherence to these rules will not guarantee an accurate diagnosis or a successful outcome. The sole purpose of these rules is to assist physicians in following a reasonable course of action based on current knowledge, available resources, and the needs of the patient to deliver effective and safe medical care.
For more specific best practices, the physician may refer to clinical practice guidelines including, but not limited to, those produced by the agency medical directors' group, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Bree Collaborative.
[Statutory Authority: RCW 18.71.017, 18.71.800, 18.71A.800 and 2017 c 297. WSR 18-23-061, § 246-919-850, filed 11/16/18, effective 1/1/19. Statutory Authority: RCW 18.71.450, 18.71A.100, 18.71.017, and 18.71A.020. WSR 11-12-025, § 246-919-850, filed 5/24/11, effective 1/2/12.]
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