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US: Reject Proposal to Force Pain Patients Off Opioid Medication

Oregon Medicaid Policy Risks Destabilizing the Lives of Thousands of Pain Patients

Maria Higginbotham, 57, holding screws and bolts removed from her back in a recent surgery above x-rays of her body. Higginbotham, a chronic pain patient diagnosed with degenerative disc disorder and a number of other painful conditions, has had twelve operations to prevent the collapse of her spine. © 2018 Will Miller for Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Oregon should vote down a dangerous proposal that would force tens of thousands of Medicaid patients off prescription opioids without their consent, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Governor Kate Brown today.

A health review body for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will vote May 16 on a proposal that would force doctors to stop prescribing opioids to Medicaid patients with some 171 chronic pain diagnoses. While overprescribing has undoubtedly caused great harm in the United States, involuntary dose reductions – particularly without considering the risks and benefits for each individual patient – can also do great harm. The Governor should urge the OHA not to move forward with this policy.

“Oregon’s proposal to mandate opioid dose reductions for a broad range of patients risks destabilizing the lives of tens of thousands of Oregonians,” said Laura Mills, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If it endorses this practice, Oregon would be flying in the face of all existing medical guidance and expertise.”

A December 2018 report by Human Rights Watch found that some physicians were involuntarily tapering chronic pain patients’ use of opioid medications out of fear of liability or regulatory scrutiny. The outcomes for patients were clear: some could no longer do simple things like walk their dog or go to the toilet unassisted, while others felt socially isolated, suicidal, or turned to alcohol or illicit drugs.

One hundred leading experts in pain and addiction medicine wrote a letter to a review body of the OHA in March condemning the proposed policy as not founded in science and dangerous to patient safety. Similarly, authors of guidelines on opioid prescribing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently wrote an article stating that “policies that encourage hard limits” of opioid medications are inconsistent with their recommendations and may hurt patients.

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