FROM: PAIN NEWS NETWORK
COURTESEY OF THE LAWHERN FILES
By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
With the U.S. facing a record number of drug deaths, the American Medical Association is calling for major changes in the way healthcare providers, insurers, and state and federal policymakers combat the overdose epidemic.
“It’s time to change course,” the AMA says in a new report that documents a 44% decrease in opioid prescribing nationwide over the past decade. At the same time, however, overdose deaths continued rising, fueled primarily by illicit fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and other street drugs.
“With record-breaking numbers of overdose deaths across the country, these are actions policymakers and other stakeholders must take,” AMA President Gerald Harmon, MD, said in a statement. “The focus of our national efforts must shift. Until further action is taken, we are doing a great injustice to our patients with pain, those with a mental illness, and those with a substance use disorder.”
The AMA report calls for the CDC to “restore compassionate care for patients with pain” by rescinding “arbitrary thresholds” for opioid doses recommended in the agency’s 2016 prescribing guideline. Although voluntary and only intended for primary care providers treating chronic pain, the guideline has been widely adopted as a standard of care by states, insurers, pharmacies, and physicians of all specialties.
Doctors have also made liberal use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), looking for signs of patients “doctor shopping” or abusing their medications. The databases, which track prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances, have been accessed 2.7 billion times by physicians, regulators, and law enforcement since 2014. State PDMPs were utilized over 910 million times in 2020 alone, according to the AMA.
As a result of these and other measures to limit opioid prescriptions, millions of pain patients have been tapered to lower doses or completely cut off from opioids — yet drug deaths continue rising.
From January 2020 to January 2021, over 94,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, the most ever over a 12-month period.
A recent study by the Reason Foundation found that PDMP’s maybe making the opioid crisis worse by forcing legitimate patients to turn to street drugs because they lost access to pain medication.
“The nation’s drug overdose and death epidemic have never just been about prescription opioids,” said Harmon. “We use PDMPs as a tool, but they are not a panacea. Patients need policymakers, health insurance plans, national pharmacy chains, and other stakeholders to change their focus and help us remove barriers to evidence-based care.”
One such barrier is limited access to addiction treatment. Although over 100,000 healthcare providers can now prescribe buprenorphine (Suboxone) for the treatment of opioid use disorder, the AMA estimates 80 to 90 percent of people with a substance abuse problem receive no treatment.
The AMA urged policymakers to take these steps:
- Ensure access to affordable treatment for patients with pain, including opioid therapy, by rescinding arbitrary laws and policies that restrict access to pain care.
- Stop insurers from using step therapy and prior authorization to deny or delay treatment for opioid use disorder and other needed medical care.
- Support harm reduction services such as needle and syringe exchange services.
- Make overdose reversal medications like naloxone available over the counter.
- Decriminalize fentanyl test strips and other drug checking supplies.
- Ensure settlement money from opioid litigation cases is used only for public health services.
- Remove structural barriers to healthcare in marginalized and minority communities.
- Improve databases to better track non-fatal overdoses, polysubstance use and local trends in drug use.
“To make meaningful progress towards ending this epidemic, a broad-based public health approach is required. This approach must balance patients’ needs for comprehensive pain management services, including access to non-opioid pain care as well as opioid analgesics when clinically appropriate, with efforts to promote appropriate prescribing, reduce diversion and misuse,” Harmon said.
In recent years, the AMA has become increasingly vocal about the declining quality of pain care in the U.S. and the CDC guideline in particular. In a recent letter to the CDC, the chair of the AMA board said patient stigma and the undertreatment of pain were “a direct result” of the 2016 guideline. The CDC is currently considering an update and possible expansion of the guideline, although a draft revision contains the same dose recommendations as the original guideline.
“CDC’s threshold recommendations continue to be used against patients with pain to deny care. We know that this has harmed patients with cancer, sickle cell disease, and those in hospice. The restrictive policies also fail patients who are stable on long-term opioid therapy,” wrote Bobby Mukkamala, MD, a Michigan surgeon.
The AMA’s opposition to the guideline drew a rebuke from the anti-opioid activist group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). In a February letter to the AMA, PROP’s board said opioid prescribing for pain was still problematic and “a common gateway to illicit opioid use.” The letter also said that opioid medication should only be used for short-term acute pain and end-of-life care.
THANK YOU PAT;
“Your writing this article could not be more timely”
FOR NOW, YOU ARE WITHIN