West Virginia cities sue Joint Commission over pain management recommendations

Four West Virginia cities — Ceredo, Charleston, Huntington and Kenova — filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against The Joint Commission, alleging the healthcare accrediting body issued pain management standards in 2001 that downplayed the deadly and addictive properties of opioids, according to a report from the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

In 2001, The Joint Commission declared pain the "fifth vital sign," imploring physicians to take advantage of medicines available to mitigate symptoms as much as possible. The lawsuit alleges the accreditation body teamed up with the pharmaceutical industry to develop these standards, which subsequently contributed to widespread opioid use. While the commission has since removed the fifth vital sign designation and launched a comprehensive overhaul of pain recommendations in January of this year, the lawsuit alleges such efforts are not sufficient remedies to the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, according to the report.

"This lawsuit is a critical move toward eliminating the source of opioid addiction and holding one of the most culpable parties responsible," said Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W. Va., according to the Gazette-Mail. "For too long, [The Joint Commission] has operated in concert with opioid producers to establish pain management guidelines that feature the use of opioids virtually without restriction. The [commission's] standards are based on bad science, if they are based on any science at all."

The lawsuit seeks to stop the organization from enforcing its pain management standards and seeks damages to address the impact of the opioid crisis in each city, according to the West Virginia Record

The Joint Commission accredits more than 21,000 hospitals and other healthcare organizations around the country. While some in the healthcare community have been critical of the commission's pain management policies, others have suggested the standards may have been flawed, but were developed in earnest to address the widespread underassessment and undertreatment of pain, according to a viewpoint article published in JAMA in March.

"As a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving patient safety and quality, The Joint Commission is deeply troubled by a lawsuit that contains blatantly false accusations that have been thoroughly debunked," said the commission in a statement emailed to Becker's.

More articles on opioids: 
Ohio AG rolls out new initiatives to address state opioid crisis — calls on drug companies to pay for them 
Ohio nursing college to host educational event on nurse's role in combating opioid crisis 
Trump's opioid panel issues final report: 5 things to know

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