Federal and state government efforts to reduce prescription opioids are inadvertently harming chronic pain patients in the United States, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report today. Many patients are involuntarily cut off medications that improve their lives or say they are unable to find a doctor willing to care for them.
In the last decade, hundreds of thousands of Americans died of drug overdoses. By some estimates, nearly half of these deaths have involved prescription opioids. To stem this crisis, government authorities have mounted aggressive attempts to reduce the use of these medicines.
They have investigated physicians who prescribe them for no legitimate medical reason and increased monitoring of prescribing by physicians. Some state governments and Medicaid programs have imposed strict upward limits on the dosage physicians are allowed to prescribe.
The 99-page report, “Not Allowed to Be Compassionate: Chronic Panic, the Overdose Crisis, and Unintended Harms in the US” documents how some of these actions have had an unintended and harmful chilling effect, making doctors fear repercussions for prescribing even to patients with severe chronic pain who have a legitimate medical need for prescription opioids.
“There is no doubt the government has to take action to counter the overdose crisis,” said Laura Mills, a health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But it should make sure that chronic pain patients don’t end up being collateral damage.”
The report documents the negative impact of government efforts to reduce opioid prescribing to chronic pain patients. Based on dozens of interviews with patients, medical professionals, pharmacists, public officials, and health experts, this report describes how policies intended to stem the rise in overdose deaths have also driven harmful cutbacks in opioid prescribing to people who need these medicines.