Monday, in what seems like an unlikely decision in the current environment on the war on heroin and opioid painkiller addiction, President Obama recognized and supported the pain community when he declined to endorse a bipartisan recommendation that would limit the amount of opioid painkillers that a physician can prescribe.
This past weekend the Nation’s governors met to dicuss the most pressing items of the day, and among them was the rising problem of opioid painkiller and heroin addiction and overdose.
In a joint statement by National Governors Association (NGA) Health and Human Services Committee Chair Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker; Vice Chair New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan; and American Medical Association (AMA) Chair-Elect Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, the committee recommended guidelines to prevent the over-prescription of pain-killers, stating, “We agree that education about effective pain management, substance use disorder and related areas should begin in medical school and continue throughout a physician’s career. That means physicians who prescribe opioids and other controlled substances must be sure they have the most up-to-date training and education to prescribe and administer those substances safely and effectively. It is imperative we provide care for patients in pain. However, prescribing medications excessively or “just in case” is not acceptable and continues to fuel this growing epidemic. Guidelines are an important tool to prevent over-prescribing and identify the signs of addiction while meeting the needs of patients in pain. We must also ensure patient satisfaction surveys and accreditation standards are not contributing to the problem by encouraging unnecessary opioid prescribing.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, stated opioids “are passed out like candy in America,” noting that there are more than 250 million prescriptions a year for painkillers – enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.
The governors also recognized the difficultly in the challenge, “Reducing the opioid pill supply, for example, can have the unintended consequence of increasing heroin use. Laws aimed at unscrupulous providers can make ethical providers less willing to prescribe out of fear of scrutiny from law enforcement.”
While the President recognized the bipartisan support in addressing the nation’s addiction problem, he recognized the needs of pain sufferers, and suggested that action such as limiting the number of pain pills prescribed should be part of a more comprehensive approach.
“If we go to doctors right now and say ‘Don’t overprescribe’ without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we’re not going to solve the problem,” said the President, “because the pain is real, the mental illness is real.” He also recognized the need to address the needs of pain sufferers in rural American who may not have the means to afford more surgeries and/or more expensive treatments.
The President continued, “This is an area where I can get agreement from Bernie Sanders and Mitch McConnell. That doesn’t happen that often.”