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New rules partially ease wait time for nursing home patients in pain

October 7, 2010

A few months ago I did a story about narcotics in nursing homes. Some patients were waiting for hours in pain before they could get any medication.

The reason was bureaucracy.  The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was cracking down on rules regarding who can prescribe medications.  If a patient needed emergency pain relief, nurses needed to first call a doctor for permission.  Then the doctor had to fax a prescription to a pharmacist and then the pharmacist had to call the nurse back to confirm that permission.  Only then could the nurse administer the medication.

The DEA said these multiple steps were necessary to decrease the inappropriate use of the drugs. Nursing homes said it was creating unnecessary pain.

Now DEA is budging a bit on its position.  The New York Times reports that the agency has clarified its guidelines in a policy statement which allows nurses to phone in doctor’s oral prescriptions for some pain killers and anti anxiety medications, cutting down on the steps that need to take place before patients can get emergency medication.

When I called the DEA about this change, the press person told me there was no policy change and I should get the specifics from the drug diversion portion of the federal agency.  So, I may have more details to come.

But at least according to other news reports, this is a step towards compromising with nursing home advocates.  But NYTimes says the change does not include controlled substances like morphine, so it’s only  a partial solution.

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