Following last month's letter to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), asking the group to "take financial responsibility for the drug industry's role in curtailing the opioid overdose epidemic," United States Senator Dick Durbin sent a letter to four physician associations asking them to endorse mandatory CME programs.
The letter, which was sent to the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and the American Dental Association (ADA), noted several steps the Senator feels as though the associations can take to address the opioid epidemic. While the letters all had the same goal and the same roadmap to get there, each one was individually focused on the addressed association, using their mission statements to reach out and personalize his prayer for support.
Sen. Durbin believes that "the increased frequency with which prescription opioids have been prescribed in recent years has played a major factor in our nation's escalating heroin epidemic, including an alarming increase in opioid-related emergency room visits, opioid-related treatment admissions for abuse, and opioid-related overdose deaths." He cited statistics, including the statistics that the United States accounts for almost 100% of the world total consumption of hydrocodone and 81% of the world total consumption of oxycodone.
He believes that the best way to reduce the number of Americans who suffer from opioid addictions is to ensure that patients never become addicted in the first place.
Senator Durbin believes that the associations each can address the opioid and heroin crisis by "supporting evidence-based interventions." In part, he recommended that the AMA could prioritize helping physicians be more judicious in their prescribing patterns, while working to protect access for those who need opioids to manage their pain.
Several of the steps Senator Durbin mentioned in his letters to the associationswere: endorsing mandatory continuing medical education programs for opioid prescribers; supporting initiatives that require physicians to check prescription drug monitoring programs before prescribing painkillers to patients; and supporting increased transparency in physician prescribing practices and proper intervention for those who may be outliers.
Senator Durbin, in his letter, does acknowledge that there are "many patients suffering from acute and chronic pain" and that "doctors face a challenge in evaluating its existence or severity," since pain is always subjective.
Durbin HealthExec Interview
After publishing his letters, Senator Durbin participated in an interview with HealthExec, where he was asked whether or not he had heard from doctors that what he's asking of the associations would actually help. He responded, saying that he has heard from doctors in both directions. He believes that doctors who say it isn't their fault, that they try to keep their patients happy and satisfied, aren't providing a good answer, or doing their job. He believes that they "have to make certain they're doing what's medically necessary, number one, and do no harm to the patient."
In the interview, Senator Durbin did not appreciate the idea of training new professionals to not prescribe opioids en masse, though. He feels as though there should be some responsibility taken by current physicians, and some actions to rectify the current situation.
Following receipt of the letter from Senator Durbin, AMA President Steven Stack, MD, penned an open letter to medical professionals to "play a lead role" in reversing the rise in opioid addiction, but did not endorse the standards that were advocated in Sen. Durbin's letter.
Instead of endorsing mandatory continuing education programs, however, Stack endorsed ideas such as: avoiding prescribing opioids for new patients who have chronic pain unrelated to cancer; to register and use Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs); and work on reducing opioid exposure to patients who are already on chronic opioid therapy when the risks exceed the benefits.
Interestingly, on May 17, 2016, Inside Health Policy reported that the AMA is starting to warm up to the idea of mandatory opioid prescriber education tied to DEA registration. This is a huge change from before, when the AMA tended to focus on an alternative approach because they felt as though mandatory CME was too "one size fits all."