CNN: We Need another Town Hall!

Prescription Addiction Response Graphic

By Dr. Peter Abaci

The recent airing of the CNN town hall discussion “Prescription Addiction: Made in the USA,” hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta seems to have captured the attention of chronic pain patients all across America based on what I have seen on social media over the last few days. I applaud all the experts who participated, not only for their commitment to addressing the deadly problem of painkiller addiction, but also for trying to educate the public with real facts, science, and a nod toward shifting what we do toward evidence-based medicine. At the same time, I have to point out that the town hall discussion and thought leaders really failed many millions of chronic pain sufferers, and let me point out why.

As Dr. Gupta rightfully pointed out in a follow up, “Doctors must lead us out of our opioid abuse epidemic.” I couldn’t agree more, but real solutions on how America can conquer its pain and better manage painkiller dependence do indeed exist, but were never discussed during the town hall. I get the dire need and urgency of educating patients and doctors alike about what we shouldn’t do, especially when an estimated 46 Americans die of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers every day. But taking away everyone’s opioids after two weeks and giving everyone in Baltimore naloxone isn’t going to solve the problem or address what really needs to be done about suffering and the human condition. We heard lots of tragic stories and plenty of examples of doctors guilty of criminal behavior, but I didn’t see anyone talking about the ways to really transform the lives of people who need our help the most.

Every day, I see brave patients overcome devastating pain problems, catastrophic injuries, and serious pain medication dependencies. When given the right tools for success, many people can and do overcome these challenges. Yet the help that is needed, like comprehensive integrated programs that address both the physical condition and the emotional spirit of the person in pain and long-term access to buprenorphine for opioid dependence when needed, never came up on CNN the other night, even though evidence-based outcomes have shown for years that this is what works best.

Talking about what not to do with opioid pain killers needs to go hand in hand with a narrative about how we can treat pain better. Real and viable options exist, yet very little time was spent talking about that. For example, our government’s own Medicare system doesn’t reimburse doctors for providing comprehensive pain programs to their patients, despite strong evidence-based support for their efficacy across a whole host of parameters including better function, less utilization of medical resources and less medication use. How shameful is that? We are in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic in part because we don’t offer better alternatives to patients in pain by our government’s own health care plan, and similarly, coverage of such treatment programs is also lacking by most private insurance plans as well. Even the recent CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids acknowledges that multidisciplinary treatments that combine exercise with psychological based approaches “help reduce pain and improve function more effectively than single modalities."

So if doctors are going to lead the charge in helping those struggling with pain and addiction, then the next town hall on CNN needs to show the public how we can do this right when given the opportunity.

Watch CNN's "Prescription Addiction" town hall in 90 seconds.

Source: CNN