The Opioid Overdose Crisis

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Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

36. Impact of Drug Control Policy on Medical Treatment of Pain

"Opioid medications also have a potential for abuse (a discussion of this important issue is in the Executive Summary and Section III of the Evaluation Guide 2013). Consequently, opioid analgesics and the healthcare professionals who prescribe, administer, or dispense them are regulated pursuant to federal and state controlled substances laws, as well as under state laws and regulations that govern professional practice.70;71 Such policies are intended to prevent illicit trafficking, drug abuse, and substandard practice related to prescribing and patient care. However, in some states these policies go well beyond the usual framework of controlled substances and professional practice policy, and can negatively affect legitimate healthcare practices and create undue burdens for practitioners and patients,72-76 resulting in interference with appropriate pain management.

"Examples of such policy language include:
  "• Limiting medication amounts that can be prescribed and dispensed for every patient;
  "• Unduly restricting the period for which prescriptions are valid;
  "• Unconditionally denying treatment access to patients with pain who also have a history of substance abuse;
  "• Requiring special government-issued prescription forms only for a certain class of medications;
  "• Requiring opioids to be a treatment of last resort regardless of the clinical situation;
  "• Using outdated definitions that confuse physical dependence with addiction; and
  "• Defining 'unprofessional conduct' to include 'excessive' prescribing, without defining the standard or criteria under which such a determination is made."

Pain & Policy Studies Group, "Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013)" (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, July 2014), p. 11.
http://www.painpolicy.wisc.edu...
http://www.painpolicy.wisc.edu...

37. Undertreated Chronic Pain and Development of Substance Dependence

"In our study, there was greater evidence for an association between substance use and chronic pain among inpatients than among MMTP [Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program] patients. Among inpatients, there were significant bivariate relationships between chronic pain and pain as a reason for first using drugs, multiple drug use, and drug craving. In the multivariate analysis, only drug craving remained significantly associated with chronic pain. Not surprisingly, inpatients with pain were significantly more likely than those without pain to attribute the use of alcohol and other illicit drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, to a need for pain control. These results suggest that chronic pain contributes to illicit drug use behavior among persons who were recently using alcohol and/or cocaine. Inpatients with chronic pain visited physicians and received legitimate pain medications no more frequently than those without pain, raising the possibility that undertreatment or inability to access appropriate medical care may be a factor in the decision to use illicit drugs for pain."

Rosenblum, Andrew, PhD, Herman Joseph, PhD, Chunki Fong, MS, Steven Kipnis, MD, Charles Cleland, PhD, Russell K. Portenoy, MD, "Prevalence and Characteristics of Chronic Pain Among Chemically Dependent Patients in Methadone Maintenance and Residential Treatment Facilities," Journal of the American Medical Association (Chicago, IL: American Medical Association, May 14, 2003), Vol. 289, No. 18, pp. 2376-2377.
http://jama.jamanetwork.com/ar...

38. Regulatory Barriers to Adequate Pain Care

"In the United States, many pain experts agree that physicians should prescribe opioids when necessary regardless of outside pressures as an exercise of their 'moral and ethical obligations to treat pain' (Payne et al., 2010, p. 11). For some time, observers have attributed U.S. patients’ difficulty in obtaining opioids to pressures on physicians from law enforcement and risk-averse state medical boards. Federal and state drug abuse prevention laws, regulations, and enforcement practices have been considered impediments to effective pain management since 1994, when the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ]) adopted clinical practice guidelines on cancer pain (Jacox et al., 1994a,b).
"Like AHRQ, the American Medical Directors Association (nursing home physicians) and American Geriatrics Society cite delays in access to prescribed opioids for nursing home patients, including those who are terminally ill, and the American Cancer Society has recognized the frequent inaccessibility of ­opioids necessary for treating some pain. The American Pain Society has developed evidence-based guidelines for controlling cancer pain, including the use of opioids when other treatments fail or when severe pain relief needs must be met immediately (Gordon et al., 2005). Fourteen years ago, the Institute of Medicine Committee on Care at the End of Life called for efforts to reduce regulatory barriers to pain relief at the end of life and termed some regulatory restrictions 'outdated and flawed' (IOM, 1997, p. 56)."

Institute of Medicine, "Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research" (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2011), p. 145.
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.ph...

39. Risk of Opioid Medication Abuse by Pain Patients

"Opioid medications present some risk of abuse by patients as well. A structured review of 67 studies found that 3 percent of chronic noncancer pain patients regularly taking opioids developed opioid abuse or addiction, while 12 percent developed aberrant drug-related behavior (Fishbain et al., 2008). A recent analysis revealed that half of patients who received a prescription for opioids in 2009 had filled another opioid prescription within the previous 30 days, indicating that they were seeking and obtaining more opioids than prescribed by any single physician (NIH and NIDA, 2011)."

Institute of Medicine, "Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research" (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2011), p. 146.
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.ph...

40. Prosecutions and Administrative Reviews Of Physicians For Offenses Involving The Prescribing Of Opiates

"We identified a total of 986 cases over the 1998–2006 study time frame in which physicians had been criminally charged and/or administratively reviewed with offenses involving the prescribing of opioid analgesics. 335 were criminal cases (178 state, 157 federal) and 651 were administrative cases (525 state medical board cases, 126 DEA administrative actions regarding CS registrations).

"Numbers and Specialties of Study Physicians

"The 725 individual physicians involved in these cases over the study time period represent 0.1% of the total 691,873 patient-care physicians active in 2003, or one out of 954 physicians.

"As shown in Table 1, General Practice/Family Medicine physicians comprised the largest proportion of physicians involved in the criminal and administrative cases (39.3%). Pain Medicine specialists, both self-identified and board certified, comprised 3.5% of the physicians involved in these cases."

Goldenbaum, Donald M.; Christopher, Myra; Gallagher, Rollin M.; Fishman, Scott; Payne, Richard; Joranson, David; Edmondson, Drew; McKee, Judith; Thexton, Arthur, "Physicians Charged with Opioid Analgesic-Prescribing Offenses" Pain Medicine (Glenview, IL: American Academy of Pain Medicine, September 2008) Volume 9, Issue 6, pp. 741.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com...

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