Advocating for Pain Policy, Responsible Opioid Use

In addition to the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of living with pain, many people also feel misunderstood by others who don’t share their experiences. Unfortunately, that misunderstanding can affect legislation and policy regarding development of and access to pain medication.

Individual states typically take the lead in defining and regulating the practice of pain management through licensing boards, regulatory agencies and legislation. Without proper consideration, the policies they put in place can stand in the way of effective pain management for people living with pain.

The State Pain Policy Advocacy Network (SPPAN), a project of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (formerly American Academy of Pain Management), works at the federal and state levels to advance pain policy that supports the needs of people living with pain. To do this, we flag thousands of bills and regulations across nearly 20 topic areas, analyzing them for their potential impact on people living with pain and providers of pain care. This allows us to give advocacy leaders information about current pain-related policy proposals in their states and share tools and resources to help them motivate other advocates.

Our organization advances integrative pain care through advocacy and education; this has been our mission since 1988. Providing quality pain care requires excellent communication between the provider and the person with pain and an individualized approach to selecting appropriate treatments. Opioid therapy is part of this armamentarium of care for some people with pain, and advocating for responsible opioid use is of utmost importance. Therefore, one area of pain policy we follow closely is the development and availability of opioid medicines with abuse-deterrent technology (ADT). Opioid abuse and misuse has become a topic of national concern. Many people who abuse opioids swallow them, but others crush, cut or melt them, bypassing the extended-release mechanism present in many opioids and delivering the full dose of the drug to the bloodstream faster. Because data have shown that most prescription opioids used improperly come from medicine cabinets of friends or family, working to ensure increased access to ADT opioids may help prevent opioid-related overdose deaths by making the medications less desirable to those who would abuse them.

Healthcare providers and people living with pain recognize the risk of abuse and misuse and are eager to find a solution while protecting access to these medications in order to keep them in the hands of those who need them. Researchers and drug manufacturers are hard at work developing abuse-deterrent options that make opioid pills more difficult to tamper with and reduce their potential to be abused. In addition to this technology, healthcare professionals can provide resources and tools to help educate people experiencing or living with pain on how to appropriately use, store and dispose of opioid medications to help prevent abuse and misuse. You can learn more about abuse deterrence technology here and find information about properly using, storing and disposing of opioids here.

SPPAN is following bills in 25 states that aim to increase access to opioids with ADT by requiring insurers to cover them and/or discouraging pharmacists from substituting medicine with ADT for medicine without ADT.

Amy Goldstein
About the Author: Amy Goldstein

Amy Goldstein, MSW, currently serves as the Director of State Pain Policy Advocacy Network. She has an extensive history in the policy and advocacy arena, having served as the leader of the Massachusetts Pain Initiative, and later overseeing all New England state pain initiatives for the American Cancer Society. More recently, as Sr. Director of Programs, Services & Advocacy, she was a leader in institutionalizing advocacy for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Mid America Chapter. These efforts demonstrate her proven ability to develop advocacy networks and lead them in producing positive results.

Teva Pharmaceuticals reviewed and edited this post prior to publication.


September 2016

Paul Gileno, Founder of the U.S. Pain Foundation, shares his story of living with pain and his perspective on the pain community’s role in raising awareness of the invisible illness.