Drug Diversion Widespread in Healthcare Facilities

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently completed another National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, collecting over 468 tons of unused or expired medications. The idea is to get risky drugs – particularly opioids – out of medicine cabinets before they wind up on the streets.

“The current opioid crisis continues to take too many lives, and many people get their first pills to abuse from the home medicine cabinet,” said DEA New Jersey Special Agent in Charge Susan Gibson.

But the DEA’s Take Back program overlooks a growing problem in the healthcare industry: Opioid medications are increasingly being stolen before they even reach home medicine cabinets.

According to a new report by the healthcare analytics firm Protenus, over 47 million doses of medication were stolen in 2018 by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers, an increase of 126% from the year before. Opioids were involved in 94% of the incidents, with oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl the most common drugs stolen.

“For both doctors and nurses, the high stress of the profession, long shifts, fatigue, physical and emotional pain, along with easy access to controlled substances, contribute to why they might divert medications,” the report found.

“Drug diversion poses a great deal of harm to patients because it puts them at risk of being treated by care providers working under the influence of controlled substances as well as receiving the incorrect amount or type of medications.”

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Among the incidents cited in the report are a Texas nurse stealing opioid medication from elderly patients and a Maryland pharmacist filling bogus opioid prescriptions in return for sexual favors. According to Protenus, the average amount of time it took to discover a case of healthcare drug diversion was 22 months, giving diverters plenty of time to continue their thefts and cover their tracks.

To combat in-house drug diversion, Protenus recommends that hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and other healthcare providers establish drug monitoring programs – similar to those used for patients – and educate their employees about detecting and preventing diversion.

“Drug diversion occurs in virtually every hospital and health system in America, but many are in denial that it is happening in their own organization,” said Russ Nix, Director of Drug Diversion Prevention at MedStar Health. “Very few resources exist today on how to identify and combat drug diversion, and what’s out there is siloed.”

Nix belongs to the advisory board of Healthcare Diversion Network, a new non-profit that has an online portal where healthcare employees can report drug thefts anonymously. The goal is to collect data and raise awareness about drug diversion in healthcare facilities. 

I was really shocked when we put our initial database together at how many of those thefts were out of hospitals.
— Tom Knight, Healthcare Diversion Network

“I think thefts out of home medicine cabinets happen, but I also know that thefts out of healthcare systems and hospitals happen,” said Tom Knight, Chairman of the Healthcare Diversion Network. “Many of those thefts are for self-use, where the person stealing is going to consume them themselves. But sadly, many of those thefts are where the person is planning to distribute them, typically for profit on the street illegally.

“I was really shocked when we put our initial database together at how many of those thefts were out of hospitals. There are numerous cases where people working in hospitals stole hundreds of thousands of doses that were sold on the street for years before they were eventually caught.”

Knight says about 10 percent of all healthcare workers are stealing opioids and other controlled substances. He told PNN there is no good data to indicate how much of the stolen medication sold on the street comes from medicine cabinets and how much comes from healthcare facilities or the drug distribution system.

“Pretty much anywhere they exist they’re being stolen. We’re trying to raise the visibility, particularly on the part of the healthcare facilities,” he said.

Cutting Rx Opioid Supply Is Not Stopping Diversion

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

Drug diversion is an increasingly important factor in the opioid overdose crisis. A new report from Protenus found that 18.7 million pills, valued at around $164 million, were lost due to drug diversion in the United States during the first half of 2018. This represents a vast increase over 2017, when 20.9 million pills were diverted during the entire year.

As we’ve described previously, drug diversion in the supply chain is a vast, complex and old phenomenon. And it is rapidly worsening.

According to the textbook, “Prescription Drug Diversion and Pain,” drug thefts from hospitals “have increased significantly within the past decade as street prices have climbed sharply for diverted prescription opioids and benzodiazepines.”

In other words, the steep cuts in opioid production that began in 2017 aren’t working. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions was wrong when he said, "The more a drug is diverted, the more its production should be limited." A tightening supply has actually resulted in more diversion.

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Drug diversion can be broadly divided into three categories: clinical diversion, personal diversion and industrial diversion. The first, according to Protenus, is drug diversion by healthcare workers. The second is the sale or transfer by a patient who received a legitimate prescription to a third party. And the third is everything else, from diversion by employees at manufacturing facilities to theft in distribution centers or pharmacies.

Personal diversion has gotten substantial attention in recent years. Prescription drug monitoring databases, pain agreements, and urine drug testing are all intended to help prevent such diversion.

Clinical drug diversion is a long-standing problem in healthcare that has garnered more interest recently. The bipartisan opioid bill recently passed by Congress includes a provision that allows hospice workers to destroy opioid medication that has expired or is no longer needed by a patient. The National Institutes of Health has also awarded a grant to further expand efforts to detect opioid and other drug theft in hospital systems.

Industrial diversion is less well known, but appears to be a longstanding problem. In the book “Dopesick,” journalist Beth Macy writes that as early as 2001 the DEA was investigating lax security standards at Purdue Pharma manufacturing plants after the arrest of two Purdue employees accused of trying to steal thousands of pills.

Between 2009 and 2012, over 63,000 thefts of opioids and other controlled substances were reported to the DEA. Pharmacies (66%) and hospitals (19%) accounted for the vast majority of those drug thefts.

And in 2007, an audit of CMS Medicare Part D payments identified 228,000 prescription payments with invalid prescriber identifications for Schedule II drugs.

In other words, tens of thousands of drug thefts and hundreds of thousands of fraudulent prescriptions are occurring annually, leading to millions of prescription pills entering the illegal market. This may help explain how OxyContin entered the black market so quickly and completely.

As Beth Macy writes: “The town pharmacist on the other line was incredulous: “Man, we only got it a month or two ago. And you’re telling me it’s already on the street?””

The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and the DEA Diversion Control Division are attempting to address industrial diversion. But available evidence suggests there is much more work needed to secure the entire prescription drug supply chain.

As the opioid overdose crisis continues to evolve toward poly-drug substance abuse, drug diversion will play an increasingly significant role in the illegal supply of prescription pharmaceuticals unless the entire supply chain is secured. This will require far more than the easy tasks of checking a prescription database or legislating pill counts. The hard part of reducing drug diversion remains to be done.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

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.

DEA Takes Steps to Reduce Hospital Opioid Shortages

By Pat Anson, Editor

In response to a growing number of complaints about shortages of opioid pain medication in U.S. hospitals, the Drug Enforcement Administration is allowing some drug makers to increase their production of injectable opioids.

The shortages were first reported last summer but have intensified in recent months – leaving some hospitals scrambling to find morphine, fentanyl and other injectable opioids to treat patients suffering from acute pain after surgery or trauma. The shortages are largely due to manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which controls 60 percent of the market for injectable opioids.

“DEA is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, drug manufacturers, wholesale distributors and hospital associations to ensure that patients have access to necessary hospital-administered pain medications. These include certain injectable products that contain morphine, hydromorphone, meperidine, and fentanyl,” the agency said in a statement.

The DEA said it gave permission to three other drugs makers to produce the injectable drugs after Pfizer “voluntarily surrendered” part of its quota allotment.

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“It is important to note that an increase in DEA procurement quotas to various manufacturers cannot alone prevent future shortages as DEA does not control the quantity or the speed by which manufacturers produce these or any of their products,” the agency said.

But critics say the DEA itself is partly responsible for the shortages. The agency may not control how companies manufacture drugs – but it has a big say on the amount. Under federal law, the DEA sets annual production quotas for each drug maker to produce opioids and other controlled substances.

Because of growing concerns about the overdose crisis, the DEA ordered a 25 percent reduction in opioid manufacturing in 2017 and an additional 20 percent cut in 2018. This year’s cuts were ordered despite warnings from three drug makers that reduced supplies of opioids “were insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States.”

A group of 16 U.S. Senators – led by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin – urged the DEA to make the production cuts. 

“Given everything we now know about the threat posed by opioids and DEA’s downstream efforts to tackle this problem, there is no adequate justification for the volume of opioids approved for the market,” the senators wrote in a September 2017 letter to then acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

According to Kaiser Health News, shortages of injectable opioids have led to an increasing number of medical errors and left trauma patients suffering in pain. Some hospitals are rationing opioids like Dilaudid, and using nerve blocks, acetaminophen and muscle relaxants instead.

The DEA said it would make further adjustments to opioid quotas if they are needed and would “also consider other measures that may be necessary.”

Hospital Opioid Shortages Cause Pain & Medical Errors

By Pauline Bartolone, Kaiser Health News

Even as opioids flood American communities and fuel widespread addiction, hospitals are facing a dangerous shortage of the powerful painkillers needed by patients in acute pain, according to doctors, pharmacists and a coalition of health groups.

The shortage, though more significant in some places than others, has left many hospitals and surgical centers scrambling to find enough injectable morphine, Dilaudid and fentanyl — drugs given to patients undergoing surgery, fighting cancer or suffering traumatic injuries. The shortfall, which has intensified since last summer, was triggered by manufacturing setbacks and a government effort to reduce addiction by restricting drug production.

As a result, hospital pharmacists are working long hours to find alternatives, forcing nurses to administer second-choice drugs or deliver standard drugs differently. That raises the risk of mistakes — and already has led to at least a few instances in which patients received potentially harmful doses, according to the nonprofit Institute for Safe Medication Practices, which works with health care providers to promote patient safety.

In the institute’s survey of hospital pharmacists last year, one provider reported that a patient received five times the appropriate amount of morphine when a smaller-dose vial was out of stock. In another case, a patient was mistakenly given too much sufentanil, which can be up to 10 times more powerful than fentanyl, the ideal medication for that situation.

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In response to the shortages, doctors in states as far-flung as California, Illinois and Alabama are improvising the best they can.

Some patients are receiving less potent medications like acetaminophen or muscle relaxants as hospitals direct their scant supplies to higher-priority cases.

Other patients are languishing in pain because preferred, more powerful medications aren’t available, or because they have to wait for substitute oral drugs to kick in.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists confirmed that some elective surgeries, which can include gall bladder removal and hernia repair, have been postponed.

In a Feb. 27 letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a coalition of professional medical groups — including the American Hospital Association, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists — said the shortages “increase the risk of medical errors” and are “potentially life-threatening.”

In addition, “having diminished supply of these critical drugs, or no supply at all, can cause suboptimal pain control or sedation for patients,” the group wrote.

The shortages involve prefilled syringes of these drugs, as well as small ampules and vials of liquid medication that can be added to bags of intravenous fluids.

Drug shortages are common, especially of certain injectable drugs, because few companies make them. But experts say opioid shortages carry a higher risk than other medications.

Small Mistakes Lead to Big Errors

Giving the wrong dose of morphine, for example, “can lead to severe harm or fatalities,” explained Mike Ganio, a medication safety expert at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Calculating dosages can be difficult and seemingly small mistakes by pharmacists, doctors or nurses can make a big difference, experts said.

Marchelle Bernell, a nurse at St. Louis University Hospital in Missouri, said it would be easy for medical mistakes to occur during a shortage. For instance, in a fast-paced environment, a nurse could forget to program an electronic pump for the appropriate dose when given a mix of intravenous fluids and medication to which she was unaccustomed.

“The system has been set up safely for the drugs and the care processes that we ordinarily use,” said Dr. Beverly Philip, a Harvard University professor of anesthesiology who practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “You change those drugs, and you change those care processes, and the safety that we had built in is just not there anymore.”

Chicago-based Marti Smith, a nurse and spokeswoman for the National Nurses United union, offered an example.

“If your drug comes in a prefilled syringe and at 1 milligram, and you need to give 1 milligram, it’s easy,” she said. “But if you have to pull it out of a 25-milligram vial, you know, it’s not that we’re not smart enough to figure it out, it just adds another layer of possible error.”

During the last major opioid shortage in 2010, two patients died from overdoses when a more powerful opioid was mistakenly prescribed, according to the institute. Other patients had to be revived after receiving inaccurate doses.

Pfizer Manufacturing Problems

The shortage of the three medications, which is being tracked by the FDA, became critical last year as a result of manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which controls at least 60 percent of the market of injectable opioids, said Erin Fox, a drug shortage expert at the University of Utah.

A Pfizer spokesman, Steve Danehy, said its shortage started in June 2017 when the company cut back production while upgrading its plant in McPherson, Kansas. 

The company is not currently distributing prefilled syringes “to ensure patient safety,” it said, because of problems with a third-party supplier it declined to name.

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That followed a February 2017 report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that found significant violations at the McPherson plant. The agency cited “visible particulates” floating in the liquid medications and a “significant loss of control in your manufacturing process [that] represents a severe risk of harm to patients.” Pfizer said, however, that the FDA report wasn’t the impetus for the factory upgrades.

Other liquid-opioid manufacturers, including West-Ward Pharmaceuticals and Fresenius Kabi, are deluged with back orders, Fox said. Importing these heavily regulated narcotics from other countries is unprecedented and unlikely, she added, in part because it would require federal approval.

DEA Reduced Opioid Supply

At the same time, in an attempt to reduce the misuse of opioid painkillers, the Drug Enforcement Administration called for a 25 percent reduction of all opioid manufacturing last year, and an additional 20 percent this year.

“DEA must balance the production of what is needed for legitimate use against the production of an excessive amount of these potentially harmful substances,” the agency said in August.

When the coalition of health groups penned its letter to the DEA last month, it asked the agency to loosen the restrictions for liquid opioids to ease the strain on hospitals.

The shortages are not being felt evenly across all hospitals. Dr. Melissa Dillmon, medical oncologist at the Harbin Clinic in Rome, Ga., said that by shopping around for other suppliers and using pill forms of the painkillers, her cancer patients are getting the pain relief they need.

Dr. Shalini Shah, the head of pain medicine at the University of California-Irvine health system, pulled together a team of 20 people in January to figure out how to meet patients’ needs. The group meets for an hour twice a week.

The group has established workarounds, such as giving tablet forms of the opioids to patients who can swallow, using local anesthetics like nerve blocks and substituting opiates with acetaminophen, ketamine and muscle relaxants.

“We essentially have to ration to patients that are most vulnerable,” Shah said.

Two other California hospital systems, Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health in Sacramento, confirmed they’re experiencing shortages, and that staff are being judicious with their supplies and using alternative medications when necessary.

At Helen Keller Hospital’s emergency department in Sheffield, Ala., earlier this month, a 20-year-old showed up with second-degree burns. Dr. Hamad Husainy said he didn’t have what he needed to keep her out of pain.

Sometime in January, the hospital ran out of Dilaudid, a drug seven times more potent than morphine, and has been low on other injectable opioids, he said.

Because Husainy’s patient was a former opioid user, she had a higher tolerance to the drugs. She needed something strong like Dilaudid to keep her out of pain during a two-hour ride to a burn center, he said.

“It really posed a problem,” said Husainy, who was certain she was in pain even after giving her several doses of the less potent morphine. “We did what we could, the best that we could,” he said.

Bernell, the St. Louis nurse, said some trauma patients have had to wait 30 minutes before getting pain relief because of the shortages.

“That’s too long,” said Bernell, a former intensive care nurse who now works in radiology.

Dr. Howie Mell, an emergency physician in Chicago, said his large hospital system, which he declined to name, hasn’t had Dilaudid since January. Morphine is being set aside for patients who need surgery, he said, and the facility has about a week’s supply of fentanyl.

Mell, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, said some emergency departments are considering using nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” to manage patient pain, he said.

When Mell first heard about the shortage six months ago, he thought a nationwide scarcity of the widely used drugs would force policymakers to “come up with a solution” before it became dire.

“But they didn’t,” he said.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Heroin Overdoses in ER's Surpass Rx Opioid Overdoses

By Pat Anson, Editor

The number of patients admitted and discharged from U.S. hospitals for abuse of opioid pain medication has declined significantly this decade, while the abuse of heroin and illicit fentanyl has surged, according to a new study that documents the shifting nature of the nation’s overdose crisis.

Researchers at Stanford University analyzed national trends in hospital inpatient and emergency department (ED) discharges for opioid abuse, dependence and poisoning from 1997 to 2014, the last year data was available.

They found that hospital admissions for overdoses from pain medication started falling in 2010, the same year that opioid prescriptions began declining.

At the same time, hospital discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased at an annual rate of over 31 percent. By 2014, heroin overdoses exceeded those from prescription opioids in emergency rooms by almost a 2 to 1 margin.

“After 2008, ED discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased more sharply than the rates for any opioid poisoning -- signaling that the scope of heroin harm is worse than previously suggested -- while discharges for prescription opioid poisoning recently began to decline in both the ED and inpatient settings,” researchers reported in the journal Health Affairs.

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“While these changes could be the result of national and local policies aimed at reducing the prescribing of opioids, the expanded availability of heroin and new lethal illicit drugs, such as nonpharmaceutical fentanyl, could mean that they are being used instead of prescription opioids.”

The findings add evidence to recent public health concerns that people misusing or addicted to prescription opioids are switching to heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl because they are cheaper and easier to get.

"This suggests that the expanded availability of lethal illicit drugs are being used to replace prescription opioids in some cases," said Tina Hernandez-Boussard, PhD, associate professor of medicine, of biomedical data sciences and of surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine.

source: health affairs

source: health affairs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been reluctant to admit that efforts to reduce opioid prescribing could be backfiring, although their own statistics indicate otherwise.  Deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids overtook overdoses linked to prescription opioids in 2016, the same year the CDC released its opioid prescribing guidelines.

As PNN has reported,  the CDC last week launched a public awareness campaign to combat the abuse of prescription opioids, a marketing effort driven by surveys and focus groups that completely ignores the scourge of heroin and illicit fentanyl.

“The campaign does not include messages about heroin. Specificity is a best practice in communication, and the Rx Awareness campaign messaging focuses on the critical issue of prescription opioids. Given the broad target audience, focusing on prescription opioids avoids diluting the campaign messaging. Heroin is a related topic that also needs formative research and message testing,” the CDC explained.

The Stanford study found that discharge rates for prescription opioid poisonings declined annually by about 5 percent from 2010 to 2014, while discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased at an annual rate of 31.4 percent from 2008 to 2014. The trend has likely worsened since 2014, as heroin and illicit fentanyl are even more widely available on the black market.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that prescribing clinicians are positively reacting to the opioid crisis and therefore prescription opioids are contributing less to the overall drug epidemic," Hernandez-Boussard said. "That's the good news. The bad news is that although prescription opioid use decreased, heroin and methadone greatly increased.”

Anna Lembke, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford and a board member of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), says she has no doubt many people addicted to prescription opioids have switched to using heroin or illicit fentanyl.

"My patients have told me that's exactly what they did," said Lembke. "Heroin was cheaper and easier to get."

Medicare Pain Questions Being Dropped in 2017

By Pat Anson, Editor

Hospital patients will no longer be asked about the quality of their pain care under new rules released this week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for 2017.

Medicare uses a funding formula that rewards hospitals that provide good care and are rated highly in patient satisfaction surveys. Critics claimed that three questions in the survey asking patients about the quality of the pain care created a financial incentive for doctors to prescribe opioid pain medication to boost their hospital’s scores.

The three questions being dropped, which don’t even mention opioids, are as follows:

During this hospital stay, did you need medicine for pain?

During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?

During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?

CMS said it was still developing and field testing alternative pain questions to replace the ones being eliminated.

“Today’s final rule would address physicians’ and other health care providers’ concerns that patient survey questions about pain management in the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program unduly influence prescribing practices," CMS said in a statement.

"While there is no empirical evidence of such an effect, we are finalizing the removal of the pain management dimension of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey… to eliminate any financial pressure clinicians may feel to overprescribe medications.”

The American Medical Association (AMA), one of the groups that lobbied CMS to drop the pain questions, applauded the move.

"CMS understands that these policies effect how physicians practice medicine and how patients receive treatment," said AMA President Andrew Gurman, MD, in a statement. "By listening to our concerns, CMS made clear that patient care was the top priority. We look forward to continuing to work with CMS to improve patient health and enhance access to affordable quality care."

CMS was under intense political pressure to drop the pain questions. Twenty-six U.S. senators sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell claiming “physicians may feel compelled to prescribe opioid pain relievers in order to improve hospital performance."

Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), an anti-opioid activist group,also said the patient survey "fosters dangerous pain control practices."

But a top Medicare official disputed those claims in an article published in JAMA, saying “nothing in the survey suggests that opioids are a preferred way to control pain.”

Pain patients have long complained about the poor quality of their treatment in hospitals. In a survey of over 1,250 patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation, nine out of ten said patients should be asked about their pain care in hospital satisfaction surveys. Over half rated the quality of their pain treatment in hospitals as poor or very poor, and over 80 percent said hospital staffs are not adequately trained in pain management. 

Medicare Drops Pain Questions in Patient Survey

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has caved into political pressure from Congress and healthcare lobbying organizations by proposing to drop all questions related to pain in patient satisfaction surveys.

The proposed rule change is the latest in a series of steps by the federal government aimed at fighting the so-called opioid epidemic by reducing the prescribing of narcotic pain medication. The policies are meant to prevent addiction and abuse, but have left many pain patients without access to opioids, and feeling marginalized and abandoned by the healthcare system.

At issue in the Medicare rule change is a funding formula that requires hospitals to prove they provide quality care through patient satisfaction surveys. The formula rewards hospitals that provide good care and are rated highly by patients, while penalizing those who do not. 

Critics claim that three pain care questions in the survey -- known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey (HCAHPS) -- encourage doctors to overprescribe opioid pain medication to boost their hospital's scores.

"While there is no empirical evidence of this effect, we propose to remove the pain management dimension from the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program to eliminate any potential financial pressure clinicians may feel to overprescribe pain medications," CMS said in a statement.

"CMS continues to believe that pain control is an appropriate part of routine patient care that hospitals should manage and is an important concern for patients, their families, and their caregivers."

CMS has been under intense political pressure over the last few months to drop the pain questions. In March, 26 U.S. senators sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell claiming "the evidence suggests that physicians may feel compelled to prescribe opioid pain relievers in order to improve hospital performance on quality measures."

Several physician groups have also made the same claim, without offering anything more than anecdotal evidence. Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP)  said the survey "fosters dangerous pain control practices" and even the American Medical Association recently said the surveys "are clearly motivating forces for opioid prescribing."

A top Medicare official disputed those claims in an article published in JAMA. 

"It has been alleged that, in pursuit of better patient responses and higher reimbursement, HCAHPS compels clinicians to prescribe prescription opioids. However, there is no empirical evidence that failing to prescribe opioids lowers a hospital’s HCAHPS scores," wrote Lemeneh Tefera, MD. “Nothing in the survey suggests that opioids are a preferred way to control pain.”

These are the three pain questions in the CMS patient survey::

During this hospital stay, did you need medicine for pain?

During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?

During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?

The agency said it would develop and "field test" alternative questions related to pain and include them in the survey. Public comments on the proposed rule change will be accepted until September 6, 2016.

CMS said the rule changes "are based on feedback from stakeholders, including beneficiary and patient advocates, as well as health care providers, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers and the physician community."

While some politicians and lobbyists may support the CMS decision, pain patients clearly do not. 

Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation recently conducted a survey of over 1,250 pain patients. Nine out of ten said patients should be asked about their pain care in hospital satisfaction surveys. Over half rated the quality of their pain treatment in hospitals as poor or very poor, and over 80 percent said hospital staffs are not adequately trained in pain management. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has adopted guidelines that discourage primary care physicians from prescribing opioids or chronic pain. The Obama administration has also proposed spending over a billion dollars on opioid addiction treatment. Not one cent is proposed for pain research or for funding alternative treatments for pain.