Fighting the Opioid Crisis while Ensuring Access for Those Who Truly Need It

Thursday, August 30, 2018

By: Marc Boutin, JD, Chief Executive Officer

The National Health Council (NHC) acknowledges the complexity of the opioid crisis in the United States and commends policymakers, health care providers, patient organizations, and other health care stakeholders for dedicating substantial resources to helping fight widespread addiction. While we recognize this problem must be solved, these challenges have a detrimental effect on patients and their caregiver’s quality of life and ability to function. We need to strike the right balance to ensure appropriate access. Innovations can help us curb the opioid crisis in the future, however, we also need to address the current needs of patients.

We applaud the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) recent announcement that recognizes innovation is needed to create products that don’t drive opioid abuse. Their $40.4 million research program will focus on understanding the nature of chronic pain – who is susceptible, how it develops, and how to treat it. We hope this new research can help find effective treatment options that physicians can feel confident prescribing to patients because they are less or not addictive and have fewer side effects.

However, a recent Politico article illustrates our concern regarding access today. It examines patients with chronic pain, including those with cancer and severe injury, who were prescribed opioid pain medications for many years before being abruptly denied the medication by their physician. Physicians and health care systems now associate tremendous risk with treating chronic pain with opioids.

Inconsistencies in prescribing practices have led to patients with complex cancer diagnoses struggling to access pain management, while dental patients receive large prescriptions for opioids for routine procedures. We must address the entire spectrum of this issue.

The NHC developed a set of principles for policies related to opioids early this year, and the first area of focus is to “ensure a balance is struck between promoting access to appropriate pain management for chronic conditions and curbing inappropriate access to and abuse of opioids.”

We remain steadfast on this issue and believe that policies to address the opioid crisis should also address the needs of patients with unique pain experiences that benefit from the controlled and appropriate use of opioids. In our rush to prevent addiction, we are also denying access for those in need. Our goal is to strike the balance between the two, so we avoid addiction, but get the medicines to those who truly need them.