Improving quality of life for patients and their families is a top priority for ACS CAN’s advocacy agenda, and advancing policies that expand access to palliative care is an essential component of our work to support cancer patients around the country.
Bipartisan Opioid Legislation Signed into Law
In a major show of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, Congress recently passed legislation to address the nation's opioid problem. The Comprehensive Addictions and Recovery Act (CARA) was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, and underscores the critical public health problem of misuse and abuse of opioid medications. The legislation also includes provisions that acknowledge the legitimate need cancer patients and other individuals with serious illness have for accessing pain medication.
ACS CAN supports CARA and other balanced public policies that address addiction while maintaining access to necessary relief for individuals fighting pain from cancer and other serious illness. ACS CAN is also devoted to making sure the patient voice is heard in the current public policy debate on the problem of opioid addiction and overdose.
In June, I invited Evelyn Lopez, a New Jersey ACS CAN volunteer and stage 3-4 Hodgkin's lymphoma survivor, to share herÎ¾personal experience with the unrelenting and severe pain caused by her cancer, which she continues to experience even now. Evelyn is one of millions of Americans whose daily debilitating pain restricts her ability to work, live independently, and enjoy a productive quality of life. That's why this legislation is so important. CARA goes beyond reducing substance abuse and addiction. Its provisions also focus on helping Americans better understand, treat, and manage acute and chronic pain.
It's remarkable how little scientific understanding there is of the basic biologic causes of pain. In response to that, the new law directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to intensify research into what causes pain, as well as possible alternatives to opioids for effective pain management.
State-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are in place across the county to both detect potential abuse and to protect legitimate patient access to opioids for patients who need access to pain medications. Under CARA, PDMPs will be strengthened and expanded to allow for better communication and data to be shared across state lines.
Additionally, the new law will establish an interagency task force to review, modify, and update best practices for how pain medication is prescribed to patients. Better informed guidelines and care standards for physicians will help them better understand and treat patients with chronic pain.
We applaud Congress for working together to find solutions to help address the public health issue of prescription drug abuse. As states continue to develop their own legislative solutions to combat opioid abuse, we encourage lawmakers to remember the many patients who live with pain and rely on access to medication in order to function in their daily lives. This is the situation that many cancer patients and survivors face, as do others with chronic pain whose most ardent wish is simply to be able to work and live independently without pain.