Provo Daily Herald
Case may be causing pain-killer anxiety
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- In the wake of the criminal case of Utah psychiatrist Robert Allen Weitzel, some physicians may have stopped giving pain medication to patients. "I think the Weitzel case intimidated a few (physicians) who are leery to prescribe appropriate medication to the dying," said Dr. Mary Jane Norman. "I want the average physician treating pain to feel secure about it and safe." Norman, who is vice president of the Western Medical Directors' Association, organized the End-of-Life Issues Conference held Saturday. Weitzel was recently convicted of manslaughter and medical negligence in a much-publicized case involving the deaths of five elderly people suffering from end-stage dementia. Weitzel claimed he was providing comfort care by giving the patients morphine injections and other medications. The jury found his care inappropriate and criminal. "The fear and paranoia because of the Weitzel case is absolutely unnecessary," said Arthur Lipman, a professor in the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. Lipman told a group of about 25 medical workers that the Weitzel case has had unfortunate impacts on people who suffer from pain. When it's appropriate, physicians shouldn't be afraid to give pain medications that are derivatives of opium and morphine, otherwise known in the medical community as "opioids." "Patients are suffering unnecessarily because of opia-phobia," Lipman said. "We can and should use the medications for all types of chronic pain." Physicians can protect themselves by documenting their treatments, Lipman said. "We're fortunate that Utah has a much better regulatory climate than other states," he added. Lipman was joined by a panel of experts, including doctors who treat terminally ill patients. Dr. Sharon Weinstein, director of Pain Medicine Palliative Care at the Huntsman Cancer Research Institute, said it's difficult to treat patients who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer's because they often cannot talk about their pain. "It puts a huge burden on the practice," she said, because it requires the nurse, for instance, to follow the patients carefully. A survey found that rural physicians are most reluctant to prescribe morphine or other pain medication because they feel they are most vulnerable to being sued, said Weinstein. "We need to do a better job supporting our colleagues in rural practice," she said.
This Story appeared in The Daily Herald on Monday, August 28, 2000 12:00:00 AM
© 2001 by HarkTheHerald.com
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