Editor’s Note: This Friday marks the deadline for the public to comment on opioid prescribing guidelines proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). As PNN has reported (see “Medicare Planning to Adopt CDC Opioid Guidelines”), the guidelines are likely to limit access to opioid pain medication for millions of Medicare beneficiaries. They would also empower insurance companies to take punitive action against pharmacies, doctors and patients that don’t follow the guidelines.
The following is a letter written in opposition to the CMS guidelines by Ms. Judith Botamer. She has graciously agreed to let us publish it here in the interest of getting more people to send their own comments to CMS.
All comments should be emailed to CMS no later than March 3 to this address:
To Whom It May Concern:
As a disabled chronic pain patient, I strongly oppose the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ plan to accept policies from the recent CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. I implore you to take action so that this mandate does not become a reality for the 100 million Americans who suffer with chronic pain, including many on Medicare.
The CDC guideline is simply a voluntary guide intended for primary care physicians only. The CMS guideline as written gives no margin or credence to pain management doctors who already have strict opioid policies, as well as an established ongoing relationship with their patients.
Your currently drafted policy makes the guidelines mandatory for all doctors, patients and pharmacists, and imposes a ceiling on the highest dose of opioids that can be prescribed. This gives physicians no discretion in determining what is right for their patients. That was never the CDC’s intent, nor is it feasible to expect all chronic pain patients to be able to maintain the level of care that their doctor has established for them.
I am permanently disabled with neuropathy, RA, fibromyalgia, torn disks, TMJD and migraines, as well as many other pain conditions for which there is no cure. At the young age of 53, I sometimes feel my life is over. If not for pain control from opioid medication, it surely would become a reality.
I never asked to be overcome with this much pain from so many “invisible illnesses.” As a prior athlete, I am challenged daily to accept the reduced quality of life for myself and, in turn, for my family. Fortunately, my empathetic pain doctor will prescribe me enough medication so that I am functioning. If my current regimen were to be lowered to the amount set forth in this guideline, I would not be able to fully care for myself, perhaps be bedridden, and be left with a dramatically diminished quality of life.
This mandate actually takes away my right to a quality of life that I deserve. The burden of being struck with legitimate pain conditions should not equate to the loss of a right to live life with dignity, just as any other patient with any other chronic illness.
Many doctors are now frightened of prescribing pain medication for fear the CDC, DEA or FDA would sanction their license, when they simply want to fulfill their oath of “do no harm.” And let's be clear, not prescribing pain medication to a patient who is suffering, is doing harm! Not only for the patient, but for our communities and society as a whole.
To this point, on June 1, 2016, Dr. Debra Houry, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, wrote the following:
“The Guideline is a set of voluntary recommendations intended to guide primary care providers as they work in consultation with their patients to address chronic pain. Specifically, the Guideline includes a recommendation to try taper or reduce dosage only when patient harm outweighs patient benefit of opioid therapy. The Guideline is not a rule, regulation, or law. It is not intended to deny access to opioid pain medication as an option for pain management. It is not intended to take away physician discretion and decision-making.”
I truly hope that there is no collusion between the insurance industry and CMS in drafting your new “Opioid Misuse Strategy.” Taking pain medication away from a pain patient will not stop the criminals, drug cartels or addicts. Those issues are worlds away. Pain patients are not addicts or looking for a “high.” They depend on their medication just as a diabetic depends on insulin for life quality.
Please join me and become an empathetic advocate for the millions who suffer in silence as a result of just a few who break the law and displace attention away from the real tragedy: Pain patients being denied medical treatment, being treated as criminals, and their doctors being threatened for only doing the right thing!
For all of these reasons and more, CMS should not adopt or align your agency’s policies with the CDC Guideline, as it is apparent you have misinterpreted them.
Judith A. Botamer
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.
Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.