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This is an extremely busy time on Capitol Hill for legislation aimed at reducing opioid abuse and addiction. No less than four key committees with jurisdiction over health policy- Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Senate Finance, House Energy and Commerce and House Ways and Means are hard at work on comprehensive new opioid legislation with a goal of completing efforts before Memorial Day and then sending legislation to the floor of each chamber in June.

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Pain advocates are encouraged to ask Congress to support Opioids and STOP Pain Initiative Act, which was introduced in December, through an easy online engagement campaign.

HR4733/S2260 proposes to expand, intensify, and coordinate research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with respect to the understanding of pain and the development of safer and more effective pain treatments. It also will help fund the development of improved options for medication-assisted treatment and opioid overdose reversal

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Steinberg testifies in December.

Cindy Steinberg, U.S. Pain’s national director of policy and advocacy, testified twice at the Massachusetts State House in recent weeks on important pain policy legislation. On Dec. 19, she testified in support of a bill to ensure pain is properly assessed and managed in all health care settings. On Jan. 16, she expressed concern over some aspects of a bill that may go too far in restricting pain medications.

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U.S. Pain Foundation takes the opioid crisis very seriously and is doing its part to help reduce overdoses and addiction. However, as a result of some extreme reforms, many pain patients are being unfairly penalized and are experiencing huge obstacles in obtaining pain management.

To help members facing problems with treatment access, the organization has created a three-page resource with suggestions on how to stay safe in these situations while also advocating for oneself. Titled  “What to Do if You’ve Been Denied Appropriate Pain Management,” the online document includes the following sections: “Addressing Unfair Restrictions,” “Managing Possible Withdrawal,” “Managing Increased Pain,” and “Filing Complaints.”

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U.S. Pain and 31 patient and professional groups have submitted a letter to Congress urging it not to repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, which would upend essential protections for some of the most vulnerable patients in the country. The law aims to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from limiting controlled substance pain medication distribution in a that way lacked transparency, due process, or safety.

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Policymakers, health care providers, and members of the public continue to grapple with how to address the ongoing opioid crisis. Most recently, President Trump deemed the opioid epidemic a national health emergency, calling on the country to work together to solve it.

But many people with pain feel the discussion about reducing opioid abuse is often one-sided, overlooking that these medicationss can be a critical part of treatment that allows them to function.

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Many in the chronic pain community expressed concern after CVS pharmacy announced this month that it will limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for acute or new conditions. The wording of the new policy is as follows: “This program will include limiting to seven days the supply of opioids dispensed for certain acute prescriptions for patients who are new to therapy,” which means people living with chronic pain should not be subjected to the seven-day limit. However, CVS will  limit the daily dosage of opioids and will require use of immediate-release formulations before prescribing extended-release opioids; these two changes may affect chronic pain patients.

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Despite opposition from groups like the U.S. Pain Foundation, beginning in January 2018, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will change the pain management questions on patient hospital satisfaction surveys from how well staff did controlling patients’ pain to how often they “talked” to patients about their pain. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, known as the HCAHPS survey, is a high-profile, publicly reported measure that allows consumers to compare the quality of care between different hospitals. Survey results are also used to determine a portion of hospital reimbursement rates.

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Photo courtesy of Safer Lock.

According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75 percent of all opioid misuse does not start with a prescription, but through medication illegally obtained from a friend, family member, or dealer. Fortunately, a new, lockable pill bottle represents a promising step in preventing diversion without limiting access to relief for legitimate patients.

The product was developed by a company called Safer Lock, created by Nathan Langley and his business partner, Joseph Simpson. Simpson’s brother, Steven, became addicted to pain medications as a teenager after stealing them from their mother, Deborah. Deborah, who lives with chronic pain, began taking pain medications due to a car accident in 2002.

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Recently, U.S. Pain has seen a number of bills that propose placing a tax on opioids in order to fund efforts to combat opioid abuse. To date, bills have been introduced in numerous states (MN, IA, MA, CA, KY, MT, PA, and NY) and in Congress. But the bills would primarily place a financial burden on legitimate patients. At the very least, chronic pain advocates argue the funds should also be used to address the pain epidemic, not just substance use disorder.

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