Ever since Dr. Frank Li, the former medical director of Seattle Pain Centers’ license was suspended on July 14, thousands of patients have been frantically searching for a new place to receive the care they need.Hundreds of patients have already been referred to places like the University of Washington, Swedish Medical Center, and the Washington Center for Pain Management, but medical directors are still working on figuring out how to find enough space to accept the 8,000 plus patients with prescription opiates through Seattle Pain Centers.
The medical director for Pain Services at Swedish Medical Center Steven Stanos told the Seattle Times:
“It puts us in a precarious situation when you have a huge prescriber of patients and they suddenly close up. A lot of these patients were very high-risk to start with.”
Seattle Pain Centers have prescribed painkillers to approximately 25,000 patients over the years through their eight clinic locations across Washington, but only the one in Renton is still open now that Li is no longer in charge. The Washington state Medical Commission barred Li from practicing medicine after charging him with failure to adequately monitor the use of opiate prescriptions. His failure potentially led to the deaths of 18 people between 2010 and 2016.
Medical professionals are most concerned with the 400 or so patients receiving their pain medication through implanted pumps; if they are unable to refill their prescription opiates in time, doctors believe that they may end up suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, or even die.
The Seattle Times spoke to Maria Halinen, whose 71-year-old husband Martti Halinen has been using hydromorphone pumps for almost 20 years to help manage his arachnoiditis, an incredibly painful condition that causes severe inflammation on one of the three linings of the spinal cord and brain. She told the Times:
“This pain pump has been a godsend… [i]f his medication runs out, Martti says it will be like waiting for someone to beat you up, the pain will be so bad.”
Health officials have known about problems with Li’s actions as early as 2013 when he was blocked from giving prescription opiates for the state worker’s compensation program by Labor & Industries Department officials after evidence was discovered that tied his clinics to multiple overdoses, one of which led to a fatality.
Some of the biggest issues facing former patients from Seattle Pain Centers are new guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) back in 2012 that advise doctors to avoid prescribing doses of morphine-equivalent drugs greater than 90 milligrams per day. In an attempt to ensure these patients in need get the care they deserve, health officials sent a letter to primary care providers across Washington State. The letter, signed by executive director of the Medical Quality Assurance Commission Melanie de Leon, the chief medical officer of the state Health Care Authority Dr. Dan Lesser, and state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy, stated:
“Health practitioners who treat displaced patients should not fear disciplinary action from the state’s Medical Commission for ordering, prescribing, dispensing or administering controlled substances, including opioids, for legitimate medical purposes and in the course of professional practice.”
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