Trump and Clinton Pursue Same Policies in Pain Care

By Pat Anson, Editor

Chronic pain patients hoping for a dramatic change in federal pain care policies as a result of the presidential election are likely to be disappointed.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton favor more restrictions on opioid prescribing, as well as expanded access to addiction treatment programs, which are essentially the same policies being pursued by the Obama administration.

At a rally in New Hampshire this weekend, Trump outlined for the first time his strategy to combat the nation’s so-called opioid epidemic.

“DEA should reduce the amount of Schedule II opioids -- drugs like oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl -- that can be made and sold in the U.S. We have 5 percent of the world’s population, but use 80 percent of the prescription opioids,” Trump said in prepared remarks.

“I would also restore accountability to our Veterans Administration. Too many of our brave veterans have been prescribed these dangerous and addictive drugs by a VA that should have been paying them better attention.”

Trump said the Food and Drug Administration has been “too slow” in approving opioid pain medication with abuse deterrent formulas. And he said he would “lift the cap” on the number of patients that a doctor can treat with addiction treatment drugs.

donald trump

donald trump

But the Republican nominee seemed confused about the difference between abuse deterrent formulas and addiction treatment drugs like buprenorphine (Suboxone).

"The FDA has been far too slow to approve abuse-deterring drugs. And when the FDA has approved these medications, the rules have been far too restrictive, severely limiting the number of authorized prescribers as well as the number of patients each doctor can treat," he said.

There are no limits on doctors for prescribing abuse deterrent drugs, but there are for the buprenorphine. In August, the Obama administration nearly tripled the number of patients that a doctor can treat with buprenorphine.

Trump also seemed unaware that the DEA recently said it would reduce the production quota for many opioids by 25 percent or more.

Trump claimed the Obama administration has worsened the nation’s drug problem by commuting the sentences of drug traffickers and by releasing “tens of thousands” of drug dealers early from prison. He also pledged to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

“We will close the shipping loopholes that China and others are exploiting to send dangerous drugs across our borders in the hands of our own postal service. These traffickers use loopholes in the Postal Service to mail fentanyl and other drugs to users and dealers in the U.S.” said Trump.

“When I won the New Hampshire primary, I promised the people of New Hampshire that I would stop drugs from pouring into your communities. I am now doubling-down on that promise, and can guarantee you – we will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted get the assistance they need to unchain themselves.”

Like Trump, Hillary Clinton has also promised to expand access to addiction treatment, but in more detail. Her Initiative to Combat America's Deadly Epidemic of Drug and Alcohol Addiction would allocate $10 billion in block grants to states to help fund substance abuse programs.  

Clinton also wants doctors to undergo training in opioid prescribing before they are licensed to practice and to require that they consult prescription drug databases before writing prescriptions for controlled substances.

One area where Clinton differs with Trump is that she puts less emphasis on law enforcement. Saying she wants to “end the era of mass incarceration,” Clinton has called for low-level drug offenders to get treatment and not just be locked up.

“For those who commit low-level, nonviolent drug offenses, I will reorient our federal criminal justice resources away from more incarceration and toward treatment and rehabilitation. Many states are already charting this course — I will challenge the rest to do the same,” Clinton wrote in an op/ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

hillary clinton

hillary clinton

In their public statements, neither Trump or Clinton have given any indication that they believe that  federal policies affecting pain care, such as the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines, have gone too far. If anything, they want to go further.

Clinton has endorsed a proposed tax on opioid pain medication sponsored by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D). If approved, the so-called Lifeboat Act would raise $2 billion annually to fund addiction treatment programs. The tax would be the first federal tax on a prescription drug ever levied on consumers.  

During a roundtable discussion about opioid overdoses in West Virginia, Clinton called the tax “a great idea” and said it was “one of the reasons why I am such an admirer of Sen. Manchin.”

Pain News Network has asked the Trump campaign where the Republican nominee stood on the opioid tax. We have yet to get a response.