Oregon Health Official Defends Opioid Plan

By Pat Anson, Editor

The head of Oregon’s Health Authority is defending a controversial plan that would force many of the state’s Medicaid patients off opioids.

In an op/ed this week in the Wall Street Journal, Patrick Allen wrote that patients deserve “safe, effective choices to relieve pain -- not just a pill.” He suggested physical therapy, exercise and massage would be better alternatives.

At issue is a task force recommendation to limit Medicaid coverage of opioids to just 90-days for five broad chronic pain conditions – including fibromyalgia and chronic pain caused by trauma.  Patients already on opioids longer than 90 days would be given one year to taper off the medications and switch to alternative therapies that would be covered by Medicaid.

The plan has drawn criticism nationwide from chronic pain patients, advocates and pain management experts. Drs. Sally Satel and Stefan Kertesz wrote in another WSJ op/ed that the plan would “exacerbate suffering for thousands of patients.”

Allen disagrees, saying opioids are too risky to use long-term.

“This new proposal would expand evidence-based options for chronic pain management, allowing Oregonians to find a care plan that works for them,” Allen wrote.  “Evidence is insufficient to determine the effectiveness of long-term opioid therapy for improving chronic pain and function.

“Offering only one pain-management option that continues to kill Americans at alarming rates is a tragedy we can’t accept.”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Allen does not hold a medical degree and has spent most of his career working in the banking industry and as a state regulator in consumer and business affiars. He was appointed last year as director of the Oregon Health Authority, which operates the state’s Medicaid program and purchases health insurance for over 400,000 public employees and teachers.

 PATRICK ALLEN

PATRICK ALLEN

Oregon’s Health Evidence Review Commission held a public hearing on the opioid proposal earlier this month, but has not given final approval. If adopted, the opioid restrictions would not go into effect until 2020.

Opioid prescribing in Oregon has been declining for years – as it has nationwide – but the state has the highest rate of non-medical use of prescription opioids in the country. About three Oregonians die every week from an opioid overdose.