National Governors Association Undertakes Opioid Guidelines

by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

Broad and bipartisan concern about the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic has led the National Governors Association (NGA) to contemplate guidelines of its own. The governors’ plan, as reported by the New York Times, may involve capping the number of opioid prescriptions allowable for individual physicians. The approach risks taking prescribing decisions out of physicians’ hands, noted Patrice Harris, the American Medical Association chairwoman-elect. Meanwhile, patient advocates emphasize that balanced and comprehensive pain treatment should be part of the governors’ solution.

The National Governors Association & Prescription Drug Abuse

The NGA, a bipartisan group including the governors of 55 states and U.S. territories, has explored the topic of prescription drug abuse through its Center for Best Practices since 2012. The center hosted two year-long policy academies and issued policy briefs on issues such as prescription drug monitoring programs, proper drug disposal and public education on drug abuse.

The NGA has also tackled the issue through its Health and Human Services Committee. Following the NGA’s winter meeting this month, committee leadership issued a press statement calling it their “responsibility to the American people” to address the toll of opioid abuse.

The NGA does, however, acknowledges the potential drawbacks of limiting opioid prescriptions: increasing heroin use, shifting the demand for illicit prescription drugs across state lines, or instilling fear among providers who would otherwise prescribe opioids for legitimate medical purposes.

Balanced Pain Management Policy

Meanwhile, patient advocacy organizations look for the governors’ guidelines to acknowledge the need for alternatives to opioid-only pain treatment. Multiple modalities of analgesia can provide a viable alternative to opioid-only treatment during and after surgery. Meantime, an integrated approach to chronic pain can offer patients nerve blocks or local injections that manage the pain while reducing or eliminating the patients’ need for opioids. Formulary and insurance coverage barriers continue to block patients from access to these approaches.

The Alliance for Patient Access noted the need for balanced pain management in a press statement, explaining that “To truly address the opioid addiction epidemic, policymakers must focus not only on treating addiction after it’s begun, but also on expanding access to balanced alternatives to opioid-only pain treatment.”

The NGA’s health committee will formulate the organization’s proposed guidance, which the group will then vote on during its summer 2016 meeting.

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