April 8, 2020  Last Update: November 12, 2019, 4:01 pm

WA New Prescription Drug Law

Costs of Substance Abuse in Washington State

700 people die each year from overdoses of prescription narcotics in Washington State

In Washington State, one person per day dies from prescription narcotics paid for by Medicaid. That’s the word from Dr. Jeffery Thompson, Medicaid’s chief medical officer at the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Dr. Thompson cites 700 deaths per year from overdoses, with half of those Medicaid patients. Washington State has enacted a new law increasing regulations for prescribing chronic pain medication prescriptions. Common pain medications impacted by the law are OxyContin, fentanyl and methadone.

"1.7 million people in Washington report issues related to pain, which include lack of mobility and an inability to do normal daily tasks."

Last year Washington State passed a new law requiring physician assistants,  podiatrists, dentists, nurse practitioners, and osteopathic physicians to refer patients who are prescribed large quantities of opiates drugs to pain-management specialists.  Cancer patients, post-surgical patients, and those seeking non-chronic pain treatment are exempt from the new law.

On July first 2011 the new law took effect for everyone except  doctors and physician assistants. They must adhere to new rules starting January 1, 2012. Patients with prior mental illness or drug addiction are required to agree to a treatment agreement, which spells out a treatment plan that may include random drug tests and reporting of suspected illegal activities  to authorities.

One hope is a reduction in drug abuse, misuse, and overdose.  Another intent of the law is to encourage investigation into alternative pain management approaches, including chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, physical therapy,  diet, and exercise, not just higher doses of prescription medications.

The new law requires doctors who prescribe daily doses of 120 milligrams or more of narcotic pain medication to take a four-hour course in pain management. They must also keep track of a chronic pain patients’ histories, collect urine samples,  and carefully document the patient’s condition over the course of treatment. Overdoses are occurring when doses exceed 120 milligrams, according to reports, which led to the threshold setting.  Doctors must also consult with a pain specialist before prescribing large doses.

"Too many people treat these powerful drugs as casual medications", said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. "This stuff isn’t aspirin, and it should be handled with care."

Now there are reports of doctors dropping patients on short notice, and some chronic pain patients are reporting having difficulty finding doctors willing to take them on as patients.

Not only do they lose their medication, but they lose their physician and their clinic.

But Thompson suggests the problem of escalating patient demand for increasingly higher doses of narcotic pain medications was already causing doctors to shy away from treating chronic pain patients.

"...before this (law), many doctors were getting out of the pain business because the doses were getting so high and the increasing demand from patients. So pain treatment was going away long before this"
- Dr. Thompson quoted by Yakima Herald.

The new law is years in the making. The Seattle Times reported that in 2008, 10 percent of the state’s 10th-graders reported getting high on prescription opiates in the past month, and that almost 40 percent of heroin users reported previously being hooked on prescription opiates. Washington State’s law is one of the most progressive, as reported by the New York Times in 2010.

"Almost 40 percent of heroin users reported previously being hooked on prescription opiates (in Washington State)"

Washington State government publishes a website dedicated to education and awareness of the importance of treating prescription pain medications as serious, powerful drugs.





  1. So…this new law, it reminds me of so many others on the books and how they got there. Is there any logic to this law? No…lets punish everyone, because everyone is the same? NO….I know there are drug abusers out there, and now it will all go underground, those people are going to stop what they are doing, just because of a new law…how do you think they get all of the other illegal drugs out there, surely not at the local pharmacy. There are people out there in REAL pain, that are following the laws, that are taking their meds like there perscribed, so lets cut their meds, or hey, send them to one of the only two pain clinics in the state, that are qualified to assess if these patients really need their meds or not. It just does not make sense!! And where was the “law” and doctors about 10 to 15 years ago, when it was really booming out there with drug abuse with perscriptions? I do know these things for a fact, cause my husband was in law enforcement for 23 years, before he retired, 2 of my children have been involved with illegal drugs, and perscription drugs in the past. Every person is not going to abuse perscription drugs! And the doctors, hey are you saying I can’t trust my Doctor to give me the medications I need? It reallly sounds like it. And how does the doctor feel, to be told that he doesn’t monitor his patients good enough, he’s not qualified to give the right amount of meds to his patient? I have been on pain meds for approximately 16 years, due to neck surgeries, and lower back injuries, also had breast cancer. I take less meds today than I did back even 10 years ago. I wanted to lower my meds, so my Doctor helped me with that, even though my body is getting worse yearly. There are those of us out there that hate taking meds at all! I have never abused my meds, I have never lost my perscription, or my meds. I have seen a pain doctor (for over 2 years), I have tried physcial therapy and everything else that I can think of besides taking meds. It just made me worse. I live with the pain every minute of every day and night. I enjoy my life, and do as much as I can physically do. But now your saying, nope what you’ve done in the past is not good enough, we need you to cut your meds more and more, cause there are people out there abusing said meds. Oh, or you can go to one of the only two pain clincs in the state of washington, and see what they say. And cost? oh thats on me…I get to pay, I’ve already paid and paid, with money and my way of life!!! I think thats about enough!!

    • I’am in total agreement with Debbie’s remarks above. Our most wonderful doctor closed her office because of all the mess the law has made by NOT thinking this new law all the way through! Your now going to have more drug dealers come into WA ST.. More young kids buying from them, not knowing what the heck they are really getting and more deaths will result from this. The older generation taking pain medicine are suffering now and miserable. They are being treated like street addicted druggies, which we are not. We have very real pain, take the meds correctly, do the urine tests to prove it. Have complied with all the doctors request to try physical therapy, accupuncture, exercise, pain clinics, etc. Nothing has helped. To take away the small dose of 120 mgs. per day, is to take away our quality of life! Might as well just bury me now because that’s how we will feel when they are taken away from people will very real chronic pain. Stop punishing the older people and the others with very real pain issues by putting them in the same class as the drug addicted abusers. We are not like them! This law was not thought through and is hurting decent people instead of going after the real abusers. I’ll be seeing the crime rate in WA State rise higher & higher all because of the new opiate law put in place here. It’s so very wrong. . . Just keep watching the news for more robberies, assaults, people being shot during robberies & death. Not to mention suicide rising from depression from poor quality of life, etc.. This is one of the most obscene & obnoxious laws I have ever seen!!!

  2. Robert Appel says:

    I had been on methadone for chronic back pain for seven years. A few months ago I was cut off because of the new drug law. My life has been so miserable ever since that I am probably going to commit suicide. Thanks a fucking lot Washington!!!!!

  3. diesha says:

    I agree with Robert..check your suicide list maybe both our names will be on it. I have severe anxiety and now a new dx of rhuematoid arthritis. 7 joints have locked up and I can not have tx for either if these. Medical malpractice and patient dumping are illegal.

  4. I agree with everyone above, I was hit in a car accident in 2009. Through the years, I have had neck surgeries and back surgeries to try to ease the pain and the doctor said I will have pain for the rest of my life. They introduced me to a pain clinic and put me
    on methadone. I do everything legally and Now years later they are taking it away from people that need it. I think of dying more now than ever because I will lose the medicine that helped me. Thanks Washington state for torturing us and killing us off.

  5. Jennifer Platt says:

    I TOTALLY agree with all the issues above, and find it so absolutely unbelievable that a person can buy marijuana in the State of Washington, but you CANNOT find quality pain clinics that are willing to put their LAW ABIDING patients FIRST, instead of covering their own skin!! I have never failed a urine test in the 10+ years that I have been treated for RAD, and in the year that I have been in Washington, it took a total of 10 months just to find a Pain Specialist that was willing to accept me as a patient. When I lived in Denver, I not only had superb pain doctors, I was always treated fairly and humanely. I just don’t know what to do or what to expect in the future…but moving out of Washington is looking more and more likely since the problem appears to be getting worse. This should not be tolerated…and I hope for the best for everyone affected by this gross miscarriage of justice for those who live in Chronic pain. Let our voices be HEARD!!!

  6. My dad was going to Seattle pain clinic for over 5 years never had any problems. Had to take a urine test every time he went in, He never had any problems. He had a van fall on top of him while working on it years ago. He has had lots of back surgeries, He also has no cartilage in his knees and lots of other health problems. He was told 3 months ago they had to cut him down 30 methodone pills a month. from 8 a day to 2 a day. Then he goes in now only being on 2 a day they tell him they are cutting him down again. That he gets to much now that he is only on 2 day. My dad said are you F**king crazy. My dad never raises his voice and is not a man that gets upset easy. So they told him he is kicked out and he will not get his script at all. My dad came home crying, Let me tell you he did Herion for 5 years and has been off that for over 8 years but now he said It’s either I kill myself or go back to doing drugs off the streets. This is what doctors are doing to people. I don’t know what to do I don’t even know if what they did is Legal to cut him off with nothing not even a months worth, I need help

    • Alan Linell says:

      Your dad is in the same boat as the rest of Washington State. No other US state has followed WA’s lead. No other US state thinks this is a good idea. I’m a veteran of the US Army 187th Airborne, and I live with permanent disability sustained in the military. After 18 YEARS of taking my medication responsibly, my doctor informed me he will need to cut my dose by 85 PERCENT! He then told me he would be closing his practice in a few months. My wife is employed in a lucrative job here in WA. We’re raising two kids ages 10 and 13. WA is the only home my kids have ever known. All their friends live here. So, my wife just refuses to move. So, I’m moving down the coast to live alone without my wife and children because there is no longer any way to acquire the medications I legitimately need. This law is literally tearing our family apart. I have never failed a urine screen, diverted medication, or broken any of the rules. And, I have never used street drugs. Still, I’m being completely fucked. WA is a fucking bureaucratic nightmare of a state. Fuck this place!

      • Pain patient says:

        The sad thing is this genocide by suicide is going on all over the US the 1% don’t want to pay for people who got hurt in war, or on the job or in accidents or have painful diseases that can’t be cured, we’re lower than the low they want us to kill ourselves but if your a heroin junkie they will build you a staffed clinic and give you needles and methadone but if you take pain meds for legitimate pain you get nothing and worse your treated like a criminal!

  7. Pain patient says:

    The state shut down Seattle pain center because they’re the ones that provides care to Medicaid patients and in 1 day they were able to stop providing care to 30,000 people who they hope all kill themselves so they won’t be on Medicaid Medicare workers comp and veterans, they want us all to die so they can line their pockets with the savings, the everett clinic pain center, had a meeting and decided that ALL Seattle pain clinic patients they had to take on would be funnelled through nurse Erin and she would take them ALL off their meds no questions asked and no drs seen! The vets are dying at a rate of 22 a day and the month following SPC being shut down over 2,000 people committed suicide because they are in so much pain and it continues but the state ordered the morticians NOT to note when pain patients succumbed to their pain and reporters are not to tell the truth about the genocide through suicide that is going on, not only in Washington but all over America! It’s genocide but our gov is hiding at least when Hitler did it he had the balls to own it, we need assisted suicide clinics but the new heroin clinics will help us at least get heroin to releave our pain, you see in Washington if your a junkie you get needles and clinics to shoot up in that are staffed, but if you live in pain your treated like a criminal!

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