Outdated Pain Management Policies Are Fueling Opioid Crisis, Claim Health Officials

By John Lavitt 04/18/16

Health officials are petitioning to stop routine pain assessments which can lead to overtreatment and overuse of opioids. 

Outdated Pain Management Policies Are Fueling Opioid Crisis, Claim Health Officials
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Are antiquated pain management rules contributing to the opioid crisis? Believing this to be the case, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has joined an expanding coalition of public health officials that are blaming much of the nationwide prescription painkiller crisis on an outdated view of pain management. 

In 2001, CMS, the federal agency known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Joint Commission, a federally-supported nonprofit agency that accredits more than 21,000 health care organizations, introduced new standards requiring health care organizations to ask every patient about pain, designating pain as a vital sign like temperature, breathing rate, blood pressure and pulse. This new pain management approach led to the use of pain scales and policies requiring aggressive pain management, resulting in a huge increase in the prescribing of opioid painkillers.

Now, a denizen of health care organizations, medical experts and consumer advocacy groups are demanding revisions of the antiquated pain management rules, which reduce hospital reimbursements based on patients' complaints about pain, according to the Morning Call. The coalition believes the rules inadvertently promote addiction since it promotes overprescribing, contributing to widespread abuse of opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin.

In petitions to CMS and the Joint Commission, the coalition wrote: “Mandating routine pain assessments for all patients in all settings is unwarranted and can lead to overtreatment and overuse of opioid analgesics. Healthcare professionals are capable of using their clinical judgment to determine when to assess patients for pain… Aggressive management of pain should not be equated with quality health care as it can result in unhelpful and unsafe treatment, the end point of which is often the inappropriate provision of opioids.” 

The petition calls for removal of the pain questions from the agency's patient satisfaction survey, which is used to determine hospital reimbursement rates. The other petition co-signers include senior health officials from Vermont, Alaska and Rhode Island, as well as heads of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

"As health professionals we have a duty to relieve pain and suffering, but these existing pain management rules are ultimately causing harm to patients and fueling an addiction epidemic," explained Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy. "Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen dramatically over the past 20 years, leading to an epidemic of opioid addiction, rising heroin use, and a record high rate of overdose deaths."

Joining the bandwagon, Congress is also pressuring CMS and the Joint Commission to unlink hospital reimbursement from patient satisfaction with pain management, in the form of the Promoting Responsible Opioid Prescribing Act, introduced in the House of Representatives by West Virginia Rep. Alex X. Mooney. The PROP Act would make changes to the Affordable Care Act that would ease the pressure on physicians to prescribe opioid painkillers.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.