The late summer has brought the heat to Oregon after residents caught wind of a proposed change to Medicaid that would force patients with chronic pain to taper off opioid medications within one year beginning in 2020. While many states have enacted tougher restrictions on pain medications in response to the opioid crisis, none have gone so far as to completely eliminate the use of opioids by people with chronic pain who show no signs of misuse.

“While I understand the state of Oregon is attempting to address misuse and death from opioids, this approach will be damaging and comes with irreversible consequences,” explains Shaina Smith, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development for U.S. Pain Foundation. “Individuals in the state’s Medicaid program are an already vulnerable population, many with multiple, severe, complex health issues. Forcing these fragile patients to taper off what their doctor has deemed as a medically necessary and appropriate regimen can have permanent, damaging health outcomes.”

People with pain have been staging protests since the Oregon’s Chronic Pain Task Force announced the proposed changes to the state’s Medicaid program, which covers some 1 million Oregonians. The proposal suggests that patients be shifted over to nonpharmacological therapies like chiropractic care, massage, and acupuncture. Smith says that U.S. Pain is in favor of access to alternative pain management options, but that such integrative approaches may not work for everyone, especially those with severe pain.

“We are continuously fighting for insurance plans to pay for the alternative treatments that Oregon’s Medicaid program would cover, but you can’t cast a blanket proposal over the entire state and hope that it meets the needs of everyone,” Smith adds. “There should be a more balanced approach, one that considers needs of those Medicaid beneficiaries with legitimate pain and the state’s desire to decrease opioid abuse.”

To join our letter-writing campaign to the Oregon Health Authority, click here. For information about U.S. Pain’s position on opioid reform, click here.