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Physicians are committed to ending the opioid epidemic

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As the largest organization in our state representing the interests of all physicians, the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) – through physician leadership serving as subject matter experts, clinicians, and patient advocates – has been an engaged participant in stakeholder meetings regarding the opioid abuse epidemic since our community began working to address it.

The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act offers important strategies to tackle our opioid epidemic.

Dr. William Thompson

Dr. William Thompson

Protecting opioid-naïve patients

As physicians, we are part of the solution. We understand that proposals, such as imposing a five-day limit on all first fills for opioid-naïve patients and implementing a limit of doses to less than 90 MME, were included to help protect opioid-naïve patients.

Physicians are reducing opioid prescribing; it is down 10 percent, but there is still work to be done.

Minimizing exposure to opioids is an important goal whenever possible and will help turn the tide on this epidemic going forward. We strongly advocated for common sense exemptions to these limits for some of the most vulnerable patients in need, such as those suffering from pain related to significant trauma, cancer, and those receiving end of life care in hospice, which have been included in this bill.

Protecting patients with pain conditions

Chronic pain is a national problem and a legitimate medical condition that affects many of our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Patients with complex pain conditions can be managed by highly trained physicians who specialize in the treatment of pain to allow them to be active and maintain function.

By no fault of their own, these patients have wrongly been stigmatized and at times marginalized because of the opioid epidemic.

Treating patients who are addicted

It is essential that we stress maintaining and expanding access to non-opioid treatment for these patients to allow them to continue to be active, productive citizens and live their lives. As such, we appreciate the governor’s inclusion of prior authorization reforms and recognition of the administrative burdens placed on patients and physicians seeking treatment.

We know that 90 percent of opioid addicts will relapse without substance use treatment. Arizona’s death rates from opioid-related overdoses will not change until we increase access to treatment. We are therefore pleased to see an allotment of $10 million for uninsured or underinsured patients who need access to addiction treatment outside of AHCCCS.

We need to continue to increase capacity and access to addiction treatment. Clinicians seeking to refer addicted patients for treatment are often unable to locate access to treatment. These are serious, life-threatening missed opportunities for individuals.

We commend our policymakers on their consideration of patient safety, care, and reducing the stigmatization of both addiction and pain treatment in their work on the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. We look forward to continued work to end the opioid epidemic in Arizona.

— Dr. William Thompson is a fellowship trained board-certified interventional pain medicine physician serving on the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) Committee on Legislative & Governmental Affairs.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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