Dr. Lynn Webster, president-elect of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, is under investigation regarding the deaths from opioid overdoses of as many as 20 patients from his Utah clinic — a number unheard of in other offices where the medications are prescribed.

Doctors who are knowledgeable about the difficulties involved in treating pain tell of the “paradoxical relationship” between pain specialists and the opioids they use for treatment, MedPage Today reports.

“It is hard to know what you are doing is safe … even if you are an expert,” said Dr. Michael Von Korff. Von Korff is a member of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and a Seattle researcher who has studied the risks of opioids. “It’s disturbing.”

Studies have not yet shown that the drugs are safe and effective for long-term use. However, companies that market the drugs have given money to leading professional groups that promote them.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine received nearly $1.5 million in 2011 from pharmaceutical companies.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

MedPage Today:

Federal court records filed as part of an administrative inspection warrant last August indicate that Webster, who operated the Lifetree pain clinic in Salt Lake City, was under investigation by the DEA and other law enforcement agencies — a fact Webster himself confirmed.

The investigation was started amid a growing epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths in America fueled by dramatic increases in opioid prescriptions over more than a decade.

A report Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association,indicated that overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased to 16,651 in 2010, more than any other drug. That’s four times the opioid-related deaths recorded in 1999, when there were about 4,000 such deaths.

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