New legislation would ease nursing home painkiller regulations

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Proposed legislation would allow nursing home staff — acting on a physician's verbal instructions — to order and administer controlled medications to patients in urgent need of pain relief.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, introduced this week the Nursing Home Resident Pain Relief Act of 2011, which would let nurses and other licensed nursing home personnel act as facility designees and order and administer controlled painkillers.

Currently, under the Controlled Substances Act, physicians must submit prescriptions for controlled painkillers in writing before they can be dispensed. In nursing homes, this means residents can go for lengthy periods of time before receiving adequate pain relief. In the past, nursing home nurses were allowed to call into pharmacists for urgently needed medications upon a doctor's order over the phone. But U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency regulations have discontinued this practice.

“The law should prevent suffering, not make it worse,” Kohl said. “Unfortunately, DEA's crackdown has left elderly nursing home residents waiting for hours or even days for relief from excruciating pain. This legislation would help end these needless and avoidable delays.”

Kohl's proposal would require written documentation of all steps of ordering and dispensing process and offer stiff penalties for recordkeeping violations.

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