Ohio State Medical Board Launches Confidential Complaint Hotline

By R Carter

Will wonders never cease? In the midst of the largest assault ever against chronic pain sufferers, spanning more than a decade from the late 1990’s to the present, the State of Ohio, which oftens claims to be at the heart of the opioid crisis, launched a confidential Complaint Hotline for complaints against practitioners. The hotline is for any practitioner who is licensed through the SMBO, not just pain specialist.

As everyone knows we’re in the midst of an opioid overdose problem, the worst in history and some continue to point the finger at over prescribing as the cause. Even though the State has reduced prescribing by 41%, opioid overdose deaths continue to set new records from poly drug use, primarily heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. And while the State has kept a laser focus on prescribing, thousands of Ohioans who were once treated for painful conditions, have since been turned away or had essential medications reduced out of provider fears from law enforcement. By some estimates, more than 2/3 of Ohio’s pain prescribers have left the practice of pain management in the last ten years, abandoning their patients to an uncertain and unknown fate.

Most have stopped treating painful conditions because of a new interpretation of the Controlled Substance Act. While the DEA has always had a division tasked with stopping diversion of legal drugs to illegal sources, it’s only been since the late 1990’s that this division began looking at how doctors prescribe.

The new interpretation allows the DEA to go after doctors and pharmacist directly. The interpretation follows admissions by the agency statings, “We can no longer arrest our way out of illegal drug use.”  The CSA does not empower the DEA to determine standards of medical care, which is essential if you’re going after doctors for the way they treat painful conditions. So the agency hires doctors willing to point a finger of wrongdoing at their colleges. Turning a process which should be about protecting the health and wellbeing of the public, into an instrument of warfare for taking out competitors, as some doctors scramble to protect their share of a shrinking patient segment. Another method used is when one speciality, namely psychiatry, is pitted against physicians treating painful conditions.

Doctors attacked by their colleges are not the only problem though, the doctor’s patients suffer as well, while those who remain, cherry pick those patients who have the best insurance and can pay for a wide array of procedures designed to keep patients away from controlled substances. Procedures which come with a much higher fee and sometimes are unnecessary, particularly those whose condition is long standing and resistant to other forms of treatment.

But Ohio pain patients have been fighting back, in letter writing campaigns to state officials, protests through DPPR Ohio and other forms of social media, as well as filing complaints with the SMBO.

A new Hotline now makes it possible for patients to call and file a complaint by dialing 1-833-333-SMBO (7626). Patients can do this anonymously or leave information so the board can call them back to get additional details. Ohio law makes all complaints and investigations of the board confidential, so a caller identity is never revealed. Callers do not need to leave identifying information, although such additional details can significantly help the SMBO provide a more thorough investigation. More often than not, it will make the difference between a complaint which is investigated and one which is not.

A word of caution to patients. SMBO does not exist to censure physician behavior, so complaints about rude and indifferent practitioners will be ignored. For a complaint to get traction it must involve actions which are outside the scope of medical practice or violations of the standards of medical care.

If a complaint involves potential criminal acts, the complainant should contact local law enforcement. Complaint elements are often difficult to identify by those outside of healthcare, so CERGM offers limited guidance for chronic pain patients living in Ohio who need help in filing a complaint. We will help a complainant identify which issues are likely relevant and which are not and when possible, offer guidance in writing a complaint. You many contact CERGM at cergm@carter-brothers.com.