In February 2016, the White House proposed to include in the plan for Fiscal Year 2017 a budget for $1.1 billion devoted to “address[ing] the prescription opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic.” This mandatory funding aims “to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use,” and to “boost efforts to help individuals with an opioid use disorder seek treatment, successfully complete treatment, and sustain recovery.”
On July 6, 2016, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced additional steps to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States. These include wider access to buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist used to treat opioid addiction in a clinical setting; abrogation of financial incentives for opioid prescriptions by physicians; as well as the launching of feedback-based scientific studies on opioid misuse with the goal of developing improved training programs for physicians.
Secretary Burwell stated: “At HHS, we are helping to lead the nationwide effort to address the opioid epidemic by taking a targeted approach focused on prevention, treatment, and intervention. These actions build on this approach. However, if we truly want to turn the tide on this epidemic, Congress should approve the President’s $1.1 billion budget request for this work.”
The S.524 bill introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 2, 2015, by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) aims to “authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use.”1 Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL-1) introduced House Resolution 809 on July 6, 2016, which accompanies the S.524 bill.2
The same day, the Alliance for Balanced Pain Management (AfBPM)3 issued a press release regarding the Obama administration plan to tackle opioid addiction and related bill.
AfBPM is a collective of advocacy groups, patient organizations, and industry representatives, the mission of which is to ensure appropriate access to “integrated, effective, and safe care” to individuals affected by pain; to raise awareness on individualized and complementary approaches; to curb adverse effects linked to opioid use; as well as to find effective ways of reducing prescription medicine abuse, misuse, and diversion. AfBPM is associated with a number of scientific societies and foundations, including the American Pain Society, the American Academy of Pain Management, and the US Pain Foundation.
While acknowledging benefits that would result from the administration’s aforementioned plan, AfBPM expressed concern that the plan failed “to address barriers to access for non-opioid therapies.” In May of 2016, AfBPM issued a “Call for Understanding and Greater Access to Balanced Pain Management,” which provided “a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating, and controlling pain that ensures practitioners and their patients, not insurance companies or other outside parties, drive treatment decisions.”4
In this report, AfBPM suggests options for pain relief that rely less on opioids and include multimodal analgesia for acute pain, combining 2 or more treatments acting through distinct pathways. Other non-opioid options for chronic pain include integration of psychosocial treatments as well as therapy and rehabilitation.
The Alliance believes that by providing additional, non-opioid exclusive options for pain management, such approaches could help curb the opioid epidemic. AfBPM therefore appealed to Congress to integrate such recommendations into future bills in order to facilitate patient access to non-opioid treatments. According to AfBPM, unless such actions are taken, opioid addiction in the United States will continue to rise.
An AfBPM Steering Committee member, Brian Kennedy, added that “as Congress works to address funding for opioid addiction and treatment, balanced pain management is an approach that needs to be on the table. Ensuring access to integrated pain care that provides non-opioid options for treating chronic and acute pain will give patients more options to treat their pain while reducing the amount of opioids prescribed and the chance for addiction to occur. We urge Congress and the President to make balanced pain management a priority so that physicians and their patients can determine the best course of treatment, not insurance companies.”
1. S. 524 Senate bill. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/524/text. Accessed July 7, 2016.
2. House Resolution 809. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-resolution/809/text/rh? overview=closed&format=txt. Accessed July 7, 2016.
3. The Alliance for Balanced Pain Management. Available at: http://alliancebpm.org/. Accessed July 7, 2016.