Congress Urged to Preserve Access to Necessary Opioid Therapy for Patients with Cancer

May 22, 2018

On May 15, ASCO submitted comments to the House Energy & Commerce Committee; the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; and the House Ways & Means Committee on recent efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. In a letter by ASCO President Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, the society applauded the committees for their commitment to addressing the crisis but urged them to ensure that such efforts do not prevent patients with cancer from receiving appropriate opioid therapy.

Given the unique nature of oncology care and potential lifelong need for pain management following cancer treatment, the comments supported exempting patients with cancer and survivors from limits to prescription opioid access or dosage. ASCO also encouraged allowing pharmacists to decline prescriptions they believe to be fraudulent. However, the society emphasized the need for pharmacists to try to contact the prescribing physician before taking this action, “thereby avoiding access barriers for patients with legitimate prescriptions for management of cancer-related pain,” said Dr. Johnson. 

The letter also voiced support for improving telehealth and the use of technology in pain management, particularly for patients in rural areas who may face added barriers to accessing care. Increasing use of state prescription drug monitoring programs and electronic prescribing will also make it easier to prevent patients from visiting multiple providers and pharmacies to obtain opioids for misuse, according to ASCO. The comments further discussed how these databases can help identify providers who prescribe opioids at higher rates. Though the society asserted that provider specialty and patient population should be considered when identifying and imposing repercussions on “outlier” prescribers.

The comments also pointed to existing provider training and education and urge caution when considering additional mandatory training on pain control and opioid prescribing. ASCO encouraged lawmakers to align any future federal training requirements with current and emerging state-level standards to avoid imposing redundant or overly burdensome requirements.

Read the full comment letter.