ATTENTION!! -- Balancing News Stories About Opioids:

From: Helen Dynda (
Sat Aug 25 14:41:26 2001

A Statement on the Value of Opioids for People with Severe Pain --

American Pain Foundation - April 16, 2001

The diversion and abuse of opioids-strong medications used to treat people suffering with severe pain-is now making front-page news. While these often-sensationalized stories have focused primarily on the illegal and dangerous use of these medications by drug abusers, they have often failed to balance the problem of abuse with the real news about these drugs-that they provide valuable relief for people suffering with serious pain. The danger of these stories is that they perpetuate long-standing myths and misconceptions about pain management and have the potential to discourage people with pain from receiving treatment that works.

According to Dr. James Campbell, Professor of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, past president of the American Pain Society, and Chairman of the American Pain Foundation, "Taking legal, FDA-approved opioid medications as prescribed, under the direction of a physician for pain relief, is safe and effective, and only in rare cases, leads to addiction. When properly used, these medications rarely give a "high"-they give relief. And, most importantly, they allow many people to resume their normal lives."

The management of pain is finally starting to achieve the status it deserves in healthcare. Healthcare professionals, policy makers, the public, and the media are becoming more aware of the undertreatment of pain and are beginning to take steps to address the problem. On January 1, 2001, for example, the new pain standards of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the largest accrediting body in the United States, now require all of its 19,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities to assess and treat pain, and inform patients about their right to effective pain care. If they don't comply, they can lose their accreditation.

In spite of these advances, over 50 million Americans still live with malignant or non-malignant chronic pain. And although most pain can be managed, it often goes untreated, improperly treated, or undertreated. For example, studies show that while cancer pain can almost always be relieved, more than 40% of cancer patients are undertreated for pain. Why? One reason is a false fear that opioid medications taken for pain are dangerous or addictive.

Doctors and pharmacists need to be diligent in taking security measures to keep opioid medications out of illegal and improper hands. Regulators and law enforcement officers should be tough in combating the illegal diversion of opioids into street traffic, but they should do it in a balanced way that doesn't discourage the safe and legal use of opioid medications for pain care. And the news media should always balance news about opioids with information about their value to people with severe chronic pain.

We must be careful not to turn the "War on Drugs" into a "War on Patients."

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