People who suffer from severe chronic pain should have access to medicines that can effectively treat that pain. Doctors who prescribe such medications should do so with the benefit of the best information available to reduce the risk that such medications will be abused.
That, in essence, is the principle of balance, and for decades it has been the guiding principle of the UW Pain & Policy Studies Group (PPSG). But that is not the impression reporter John Fauber and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel perpetrated with his Feb. 19 story.
The principle of balance recognizes the needs of patients in pain but also acknowledges the very real risks of dependence and abuse that such medications can pose – especially when they are prescribed irresponsibly. The UW School of Medicine and Public Health office that provides continuing professional education in health care offered a course, “Responsible Opioid Prescribing,” that is based on a book of the same name. Mr. Fauber took aim at the book and the course in an attempt to damage their credibility. But he left out important information and presented a highly distorted picture of the issue.
The UW School of Medicine and Public Health is the home of both the PPSG and the Office of Continuing Professional Development that sponsored the course, which aims to educate prescribers on the appropriate use of opioid medications. Those interested in this issue should read the January 2012 report of the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and other Drug Abuse. The report, compiled by a broad array of organizations that are addressing the problem of drug abuse in this state, points out that decades of data show that doctors have under-prescribed opiates for pain, and that such medications “offer tremendous benefits for patients when prescribed appropriately and used as prescribed.” The report also notes that ensuring patient access to these medications must be balanced with strategies for reducing the risk associated with these medications. To see the full report, click here: http://scaoda.state.wi.us/docs/prevandspfsig/FINAL01032012CSWReport.pdf
That has been and continues to be the view of the UW Pain & Policy Studies Group and the goal of “Responsible Opioid Prescribing,” which relies on model guidelines for the appropriate use of these medications. The book was reviewed by a group of physicians and others experienced in pain management and is the best available guide to careful and thoughtful use of these medications.
Biased reporting not only hurts those unfairly targeted; it also compromises the public discussion of a very important public-health issue, and creates a dangerous environment that may set back the cause of effective pain treatment for thousands of patients. We hope that Mr. Fauber’s writings do not undo years of work aimed at improving care and reducing human suffering.