Warning Shots Work –
August 9, 2018 – Addressed directly to the doctor, the letter arrived in a plain business envelope with a return address of the San Diego County medical examiner’s office. Its contents were intended, ever so carefully, to focus the physician on a national epidemic of opioid abuse — and his or her possible role in it. “This is a courtesy communication to inform you that your patient [name, date of birth inserted here] died on [date inserted here]. Prescription drug overdose was either the primary cause of death or contributed to the death,” the letter read.
In the blandest of clinical language, the “courtesy communication” went on to inform the doctor of how many medication-related deaths the San Diego County medical examiner sees each year (between 250 and 270). It offered five prescribing tips (or “evidence-based interventions”) proven to help lower overdose death rates. And it steered the doctor to an online program designed to help medical professionals who are “dedicated to avoiding prescribing controlled substances when they are likely to do more harm than good.”