By Pat Anson, Editor
The pain community will get its first glimpse this month at how the Trump administration may address the nation’s opioid crisis, when the president’s new Drug Addiction and Opioid Commission holds its first two meetings.
The commisison's first meeting will be held Friday June 16, followed by a teleconference on Monday June 26. Both meetings are open to the public.
Chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the commission will make recommendations to the president later this year on how to combat drug abuse, addiction and the overdose crisis, which is blamed for over 50,000 deaths in 2015.
The White House says the commission will “work closely” with President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner.
“I made a promise to the American people to take action to keep drugs from pouring into our country and to help those who have been so badly affected by them. Governor Christie will be instrumental in researching how best to combat this serious epidemic and how to treat those it has affected,” Trump said in a statement.
The public can submit written comments to the commission by emailing the Office of National Drug Control Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I'd really like to see the commission recognize that addressing opioid use disorders through increasing access to treatment and through attempting to reduce the supply of opioids (both legal and illegal) will only go so far, and that, to be truly successful, they also must address inadequacies in the way we treat pain,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, which represents pain management physicians.
“Unless and until we reach a point where we can truly implement the kind of integrative pain care called for by every guideline and highlighted in the National Pain Strategy, we are going to be unable to succeed in addressing both of the public health crises we are encountering.”
Twillman helped draft and submit a letter to the commission signed by 73 different medical and patient advocacy groups calling for more federal funding of pain research and treatments.
“This longstanding underinvestment in pain research has resulted in a limited number of safe and effective chronic pain treatments, and according to the FDA, a field that is 'strikingly deficient' in high-quality evidence to assess risks and benefits of current treatments,” the letter states. “As a result, even highly knowledgeable health care providers are left without clear guidance, and may spend months to years with their patients experimenting with treatments in the hope of finding relief.”
Richard Martin, a retired Nevada pharmacist disabled by chronic back pain, says the first item on the commission’s agenda should be to withdraw and re-write the CDC’s opioid guideline, which discourages physicians from prescribing opioids for chronic pain.
“Since the Guideline was released, there are now tens of thousands of non-cancer pain patients on long term opioid prescription therapy who are being INVOLUNTARILY tapered down or off of their pain medications. This has resulted in patients being under treated, left to suffer with debilitating pain. Some of these patients have had their opioid medications abruptly discontinued throwing them into withdrawal,” Martin wrote in an email to the commission.
“There now abounds significant anecdotal evidence and significant documented media reports, that these patients who have been involuntarily tapered down or off their opioid medications, are committing suicide due to the intense pain that has resulted.”
Background of Commission Members
In addition to Gov. Christie and Jared Kushner, the president has appointed to the commission Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Bertha Madras, PhD, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, and Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman. No pain patients, pain management experts or practicing physicians were appointed to the panel.
Gov. Christie, who lost a close friend to painkiller addiction, has seen his home state of New Jersey ravaged by the opioid crisis, with 1,600 overdose deaths in 2015. Christie championed a new state law that limits opioid prescriptions for acute pain to just five days.
Gov. Cooper supports similar legislation now under consideration in North Carolina. Over 1,100 North Carolinians died from opioid overdoses in 2015, with prescription opioids involved in about half of them.
Gov. Baker’s home state of Massachusetts lost over 2,000 people to opioid overdoses in 2016, most of them caused by heroin and illicit fentanyl. Baker apparently got an inside track on the commission when he discussed the opioid crisis with Ivanka Trump while sitting next to her during a National Governors Association dinner.
Bertha Madras recently authored an editorial in JAMA Psychiatry in which she claimed that prescription opioids “remain a primary driver of opioid-related fatalities” and called on the medical community to limit the supply of opioid medication.
Patrick Kennedy has battled substance abuse issues since he was teenager, including addiction to the painkiller OxyContin. He now works for Advocates for Opioid Recovery, a non-profit funded in part by Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which makes an implant that dispenses the addiction treatment drug buprenorphine.