New Infographic, Commentaries Highlight Role of Opioids in Managing Cancer-Related Pain

April 23, 2019

New Infographic, Commentaries Highlight Role of Opioids in Managing Cancer-Related Pain

As part of ASCO’s State of Cancer Care in America™ initiative, the Journal of Oncology Practice published an infographic about opioids and cancer pain, which highlights the specific needs of patients with cancer and some of the hurdles they face in trying to access prescribed opioids to manage cancer-related pain.

In the wake of policies intended to address the opioid crisis, it has become harder for cancer patients to access the pain treatment they need. According to the infographic:

  • 8 out of 10 patients with advanced cancer have moderate to severe pain
  • 40% of U.S. oncology practices say their patients had trouble filling their opioid prescriptions
  • 92% of U.S oncology practices are concerned that restrictions on opioid prescribing will result in undertreating cancer pain

The infographic is accompanied by three different commentaries that elaborate on the patient, physician, and regulatory concerns about opioids and cancer pain.

In “Opioids and Cancer Pain: Patients needs and access challenges,” Ray Page, DO, PhD, FACOI, and Elizabeth Blanchard, MD, write about the policy changes occurring at the federal and state level aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. These policy changes, Drs. Page and Blanchard write, “risk inadvertently impacting cancer patients.” The commentary outlines some of ASCO’s work to address these enacted and proposed laws and regulations, such as ASCO’s 2016 policy statement on the need to balance public health concerns about opioid abuse with ensuring access to opioids as a component of appropriate cancer pain management. The authors also discuss how some of these new policies are patients and the physicians and other care team members who treat cancer.

Andrea Cooper, a survivor of cancer and a patient advocate, writes in her commentary about how the opioid crisis and resulting policy and cultural shifts have affected patients with cancer who rely on opioids for pain management. She writes, “Unfortunately, anti-opioid sentiment can be pervasive and hurtful. Many of us have heard, “You’re taking opioids? You’ll get addicted!” I’ve felt embarrassed dropping off a prescription at the pharmacy when a technician gives me a second look. Patients have told me that family members discourage them from taking their pain medications as prescribed, fearing that they may become addicted. The result? Increased suffering, spiraling stress, and even more disconcerting, keeping it to themselves.”

In, “FDA Efforts to Support Pain Management and Opioid Access to Cancer Patients,” Sharon H. Hertz, MD, and Douglas C. Thockmorton, MD, of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, discuss the FDA’s role in addressing shortages of intravenous forms of opioids, expediting the approval of new pain therapies, improving labeling and education on opioids, and facilitating appropriate disposal of opioids once they are no longer needed.

The infographic and commentaries are available at the Journal of Oncology Practice.

Learn more about ASCO’s State of Cancer Care in America initiative.