In 2018, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that requires a written treatment plan in a patient’s record if a medical professional prescribes opioids for pain that has lasted for more than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing. Exceptions are allowed for cancer that is not in remission, hospice, end-of-life care and palliative care.
The law is causing problems for New Yorkers like me with chronic intractable pain for which other treatments are ineffective. We find that only opioids can make the pain tolerable. However, my pain specialist has been advised by his lawyer that he should wean patients off opioids or risk losing his medical license.
Doctors became wary after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued strict guidelines on opioids in 2016. However, people with chronic intractable pain and organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pain Management objected, saying patients were being hurt. In the face of this criticism, the Department of Health and Human Services clarified in October that doctors “should never abandon” pain patients, and warned of risks including pain exacerbation, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
Some states — including Colorado, Florida and Texas — give doctors leeway to prescribe opioids for chronic intractable pain without fear of disciplinary action. New York’s law should be updated to clarify when opioids are allowed to treat chronic intractable pain, or the condition should be added to its exceptions.