The good news is Connecticut received a B+ grade in the delivery of effective pain management for patients battling a chronic disease such as cancer, according to a new report released Tuesday by leading researchers and patient advocacy groups.
The bad news it that B+ grade is the same mark the state received in the last “marking period” in 2013, meaning there has been no improvement in the past two years.
The report, Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card, shows the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The University of Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group prepared the report, which was jointly funded by the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).
“Connecticut has made progress in implementing sensible policies that make the treatment of pain available to people with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, however, there is still work left to be done for the state to achieve an ‘A’ ranking, David Woodmansee, associate director of state and local campaigns for ACS CAN, said.
“The state’s current B+ grade is due mainly to its controlled substance regulation — as it stands today, the regulation is putting undue limits on prescriptions and restricting health care decisions in general,” Woodmansee said. “The good news for Connecticut is that it would be an easy fix for the state to put a well-balanced policy in place that ensures health providers are not overly restricted in helping their patients make appropriate pain care decisions.”
The report credits Connecticut with being one of 11 states that has adopted legislation or regulations in the last few years mandating continuing education about prescribing controlled substances or opioid medications, pain management, or palliative care for licensees or for pain clinic staff who prescribe medicines.
Nationwide, the findings showed that while states have made considerable progress over the last decade in enacting policies that enhance access to pain care, including the use of pain medications, and minimizing potential treatment barriers, this progress has slowed, and in some states declined, in recent years.
The improvements that were seen are largely a result of state health care regulatory boards adopting policies to encourage appropriate pain management and state legislatures or regulatory agencies repealing restrictive or ambiguous policy language.
On the other hand, the report concludes that declines are likely a result of well-intended policies to rein in opioid abuse that failed to consider the unintended consequences.
“There is a growing movement to rein in opioid abuse in this country, but we have to be careful when considering some of these stringent prescribing guidelines,” Woodmansee said.
He said it is critical that any measures put in place stress the need for balanced policies that do not impede access to pain relief for those who need it, such as people with cancer or other chronic diseases.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, said the General Assembly is “well aware” of passing too-restrictive legislation concerning opioid usage.
“That is why,” Gerratana, D-New Britain, said on Tuesday, “the wording of the legislation passed in the most recent session that limits opioid prescriptions to seven days leaves the decision-making process of handing out those prescriptions to the medical providers, where it belongs.”
Maura Downes, director of communications for the Public Health Department, added: “In recent years, the Department has partnered with local medical societies and others to promote trainings for prescribers on the safe and effective management of patients with pain.”
Downes said: “The recent legislation in Connecticut that mandates all licensed prescribers to receive continuing education on prescribing controlled substances and pain management will bolster efforts in the state to assure the appropriate treatment of chronic pain that includes opioids, while reducing the impact of inappropriate treatment or overprescribing.”
Nationwide, the 2016 report found that while there is some continued improvement in states enacting policies that help ensure patients who need pain treatment have access to it, this progress is stalling and in some states even declining.
The complete report, Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card is available at acscan.org/painreportcard.