American Pain Society Urges Congress to Preserve Patient Access to Pain Medications


WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- In testimony before a Congressional subcommittee today, the American Pain Society (APS) urged the federal government not to infringe on the ability of physicians to prescribe medications as needed for patients in severe pain. The appeal was made as Congress, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration consider new regulations to control diversion and abuse of potent opioid medications.

"Pain is one of the most common reasons people consult a physician, yet it frequently is inadequately treated, leading to enormous social cost in the form of needless suffering, lost productivity and excessive health care expenditures," APS President Michael Ashburn, M.D. told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary. "Fears of diversion and regulatory scrutiny weigh heavily on the physician's mind when prescribing these medications."

Ashburn noted that proposed measures to limit access to certain opioid medications to reduce the potential for diversion must balance the need to control abuse while assuring the availability of appropriate therapies for treating patients in severe pain.

He said the American Pain Society and the American Academy of Pain Medicine developed a consensus statement in 1997, "The Use of Opioids for the Treatment of Chronic Pain," to establish clinical parameters for medical practice in this area. The statement clearly states that physicians must use principles of good medical practice to guide prescribing of opioids, and retain autonomy and discretion in addressing pain.

"No legislation or regulation can take into account all the nuances of particular clinical situations as they evolve," said Ashburn. "Only a physician, together with his or her patient in the context of the doctor-patient relationship, has the information necessary to decide what approaches, structure and therapeutic tools are appropriate for the management of pain in a particular situation."

Ashburn also stressed that APS shares society's concerns about the diversion and abuse of opioid medications, but regulators must be careful not to deny deserving patients access to drugs that relieve suffering, lessen disability and improve overall quality of life. Regarding proposals to limit the prescribing of potent opioids to pain specialists only, Ashburn explained that there are not enough pain specialists in the US to provide care to all patients suffering from chronic pain, and that it would be difficult for the government to develop criteria for qualified pain specialists.

"Rather than limiting access, efforts should be made to train all physicians in the proper treatment of pain, including the appropriate use of opioid medications," Ashburn said.

"We believe that full and open discussion should be held with knowledgeable specialists who represent the direct interests of pain patients before any efforts are undertaken to change laws and regulations governing appropriate and legitimate prescribing of opioid medications. Policy makers should strongly support increased funding for chronic pain research so we can better understand the role opioids should play in the treatment of these complex diseases," he concluded.

The American Pain Society APS is a multidisciplinary professional association dedicated to advancing pain-related research, education, treatment and professional practice.