From Washington comes word that a U.S. Senate Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus is being formed to raise awareness about the issue. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott made the announcement and are inviting other Senators to join.
That Senator Manchin is leading this isn’t a surprise. He spoke at the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Atlanta in April and claimed that West Virginia has the highest mortality rate of overdose deaths – 29 people per 100,000 and said that “ninety percent of the overdoses are really coming from prescription drugs.”
This latest development is another example of what concerns some medical and thought leaders in the area of chronic pain – which affects 100 million Americans. Daniel Bennett, MD, DABPM, who is a practicing interventional spine/pain medicine physician from Denver, Colorado, is one of those leaders.
“What pain doctors and patients worry about is whether this emphasis on one problem- prescription drug abuse – is being undertaken at the expense of millions of people who need these medications in order to combat their chronic pain, living life as normal a as possible,” said Dr. Bennett, who also serves as chief executive officer of the newly re-launched National Pain Foundation.
Another is Richard Radnovich, DO, who runs a major practice in Boise, Idaho. He, like Bennett, participates in a number clinical research projects on new devices and drugs designed to treat chronic pain.
“I only wish there was a Senate caucus on the problem of chronic pain,” said Dr. Radnovich. In my practice I have patients that are suffering terrible chronic pain, yet because of anti-drug messages, like this one, are needlessly terrified of taking pain medications.
“The caucus’ work on the tragedy of opioid deaths should not impede the ability of the pain patient to get adequate care, or increase their suffering. More research needs to be done to quantify the problem. We need to identify who are dying form overdoses. Lumping all opioid deaths together with the pain patient along with the recreational opioid abuser, helps neither.”
While these two physicians expressed concern, a new voice in the battle against chronic pain was much less measured.
“From the view of the legitimate pain patient, this is all sound and fury, signaling terrorism,” said Terri Lewis, PhD. “It is distraction and deflection from the very real problem of making sure that all people have access to the right health care. It stigmatizes and reinforces faulty beliefs, codifying them into regulations designed to address the wrong problem, while diverting good money into the pockets of special interest groups.”
Lewis, whose father and adult son both fought lifelong battles with chronic pain, will moderate two panels at the International Conference on Pain Medicine in Chicago in June.
Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence from around the country indicates that access to pain medication is getting more difficult for people who have it prescribed. (Here’s a story from Western Montana.)
Senators Manchin and Scott say that 17,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses every year. That number should be looked at in the light of 1 in 3 people in the U.S. have a chronic pain condition (100+ million people); although terrible, the number of people who died from prescription opioid overdoses represent 0.17% of the people living with a chronic pain condition..
Manchin introduced the FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act earlier this year which would make it more difficult for new and generic opioid drugs to be approved by the FDA. (Here’s the National Pain Report story on it)
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