A new law takes effect in January 2017 to restrict the amount of opioid prescriptions in Maine.
The first phase will require doctors to take part in a prescription monitoring program.The second phase will limit the amount of opioids doctors can prescribe. The law follows new CDC guidelines.
Chronic pain patients in Maine say they are concerned about the new Maine law that will strictly regulate one avenue of pain relief: prescription pain medication.
“I do think they’re trying to put a lid on all the problems that they’re creating, which can end up pushing out the chronic pain patients who really need them and that has to be taken into account,” Justin Tanner, a chronic pain patient, said.
Dr. Stephen Hull with the Mercy Rehabilitation Pain Program helped work on the new guidelines. He said there isn’t much evidence that long-term opioid use helps with chronic pain.
He said this is part of an attempt to cut down on Maine’s heroin epidemic.
The CDC estimates 75 percent of patients that abuse heroin started their opioid use with prescription medications.
“So, if you actually reduce the supply of prescription drugs, one would predict that you should see some reduction in ultimate heroin overdose deaths,” Hull, who leads a pain rehabilitation program at Mercy Hospital, said.
“The fact that you may not have tissue damage that reflects why you’re having this pain, doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real,” Hull said.
He said the new law also is an effort to emphasize other treatment alternatives for chronic pain patients.
“Exercise, socialization, humor, sleep, good diet all those things are anti-inflammatory, and that’s what we’ll be working on,” Hull said.
But others in the pain community say not so fast.
“I would say that the statement that there’s no evidence that opioids have efficacy or effectiveness for chronic pain is not a true statement,” Dr. Daniel Carr, the president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, said.
He takes issue with the new CDC guidelines and their potential impact on chronic pain patients.
“There are a large number of people who are well managed with an opioid, were compliant, who lead productive lives,” Carr said.
UNE pain researcher Dr. Ed Bilsky also worries the new rules may hurt those in the pain community.
“I am concerned when we talk to people with chronic pain; they still feel marginalized and stigmatized,” Bilsky said.
Some pain patients and their doctors say it’s about balance and a multifaceted approach to pain that includes the responsible use of prescription medications.
“With the opioids we seem to be oscillating across these extremes over or under prescribing, rather than having a balanced middle,” Bilsky said.
The first phase of the new law, a mandatory prescription monitoring program, takes effect in January.
Phase two, which limits the amount and duration of prescription opioids, begins in July.
The CDC said it also hopes there will be a renewed focus on alternative treatments for chronic pain.