By Laurie J Dohnalek DNP, MBA, RN, NE-BC, CENP Nursing Director Oncology, Medicine and Emergency Services MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

On June 16, 2016, several members of the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Nursing Health Care Advocacy and Legislation Council attended the "Preserving Chronic Pain Patients' Access to Medicine" roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. This event was sponsored by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and The Alliance to Prevent the Abuse of Medicines. 

The discussion focused on the opioid abuse epidemic and the perspectives of patients suffering from chronic pain. The moderator was Bob Twillmanm, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pain Management, along with six panelists, representing various chronic pain diseases and task forces.   

As oncology nurses, we see the direct impact barriers to pain management have on cancer patients. Too often legislative intent makes broad assumptions that may actually have negative consequences. We were pleased to be part of this Capitol Hill policy discussion, educating leaders on real world experiences.

Integrated into the discussion was the National Pain Strategy, introduced in March 2016, from The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This document outlined the first federal government coordinated plan for reducing the burden and prevalence of chronic pain that affects millions of Americans. This is a roadmap toward achieving a system of care to assure appropriate, high quality and evidence-based care for pain. 

Specifically, the Strategy calls for:

  • Developing methods and metrics to monitor and improve the    prevention and management of pain.
  • Supporting the development of a system of patient-centered integrated pain management practices.
  • Reducing barriers to pain care and improve quality for the vulnerable, stigmatized and underserved.
  • Increasing public awareness, patient knowledge of treatment and risks, and develop a better informed health care workforce related to pain management. 

There is currently an active White House petition that is calling for the administration to enact the National Pain Strategy. Every signature is important, and, as oncology nurses, we can help create this change for the betterment of our patients and our practice.

All in all, the session was very interesting and informative. The Council contributed to the discussion by asking pointed questions related to the barriers for pain management, including the difficulty of obtaining medications, stigmas, lack of supply, high cost, and more while balancing the opioid addiction crisis. The Council plans on attending more hearings and discussions on health-related topics on Capitol Hill.