New Data: Some Measures Meant to Address Opioid Abuse Are Having Adverse Impact on Access to Legitimate Pain Care For Patients

Bipartisan palliative care legislation offers a balanced solution to help address opioid crisis and maintain access for patients living with pain

June 14, 2018

Washington, D.C. – The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), together with the Patient Quality of Life Coalition (PQLC), released data today indicating that in the past two years cancer patients, survivors and others living with serious illnesses have experienced greater difficulty accessing their needed pain medication. Changes in prescribing requirements, insurance coverage and pharmacy policy are among the driving factors leading to a significant increase in barriers to pain treatment since 2016 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finalized opioid prescribing guidelines.

Nearly half of cancer patients (48 percent) and more than half of those with other serious illnesses (56 percent) surveyed said their doctor indicated treatment options for their pain were limited by laws, guidelines or insurance coverage this year. More than a quarter (27 percent) of cancer patients and survivors reported being unable to get opioid prescription pain medication because a pharmacist would not fill it even though they had it in stock in 2018, more than doubling the number (12 percent) who reported such issues in 2016. Similarly, 30 percent of cancer patients and survivors reported being unable to get the pain prescription their doctor prescribed because their insurance plan would not cover it – a 19 percent jump from 2016.

“It is well-documented that the nation is facing a public health crisis related to abuse and misuse of opioid medication, but policy solutions must be balanced in a way that doesn’t lead to the unintended consequence of creating barriers to legitimate pain care for those with serious or chronic conditions including cancer,” said Keysha Brooks-Coley, vice president of federal advocacy for ACS CAN and chair of the PQLC coalition.

Public Opinion Strategies conducted the comprehensive research project on behalf of ACS CAN and the PQLC, compiling data from focus groups of physicians, surveys of key patient populations and polling of registered voters. The research focused on access to pain treatment and awareness, and attitudes toward proposed policies being considered by Congress and other policymakers to address the abuse of opioid prescription medications.

The data is being released as Congress this week considers some of those very proposals aimed at addressing the public health crisis. While the research found physicians and voters agree that policies should be put in place to rein in the growing epidemic of addiction to pain medication, there is similar consensus among those same groups that extreme policies that compromise access to care for patients should be rejected.

There is a bill in Congress that already has widespread support from both sides of the aisle and doesn’t serve as a blunt instrument in addressing opioid misuse. The bipartisan Palliative Care Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) would increase federal funding for research efforts to improve pain treatments, foster the development of non-opioid treatments for pain and establish education and training programs in pain management for health care providers.

“The data released today illustrates the public’s desire to stem the tide on this public health crisis in a balanced manner. We urge Congress to include PCHETA in any final opioid package as it will aid in striking an appropriate balance between curbing abuse and ensuring patients, survivors and those living with serious illness do not lose access to the pain treatment they need to live – and for many, to complete even the most basic life tasks,” Brooks-Coley said.

An overview and summary of the research can be found here.


The Patient Quality of Life Coalition (PQLC)
The PQLC was established to advance the interests of patients and families facing serious illness. The coalition includes over 40 organizations dedicated to improving quality of care and quality of life for all patients from pediatrics to geriatrics, as well as supporting public policies that improve and expand access to palliative care and appropriate pain management. PQLC members represent patients, health professionals, and health care systems. For more information, visit

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