Gratwick bill restoring doctor-patient relationship in pain treatment signed into law

Posted: June 20, 2017 | Health and Human Services, Senator Dill, Senator Gratwick

AUGUSTA — Sen. Geoff Gratwick’s bill to provide necessary flexibility to doctors in prescribing opioid medications to patients with severe, chronic pain was signed into law on Friday by the Governor.

The bill — LD 1031, “An Act To Establish Reasonable and Clinically Appropriate Exceptions to Opioid Medication Prescribing Limits,” — would address problems caused inadvertently by a previously enacted law that capped the strength of prescription opioids at 100 morphine milligram equivalents daily.

Since that bill became law last year, elected officials have been contacted by many patients with severe and chronic pain who could not adequately manage that pain under the new limit. Some even said they may be forced to the black market to get the dosage they needed simply live their lives.

Sen. Gratwick’s bill preserves the prescription opioid cap, but gives doctors the ability to prescribe higher doses of opioids when necessary, after documenting a demonstrated medical need.

“While prescription opioids have played an undeniable role in addiction in Maine, there are clear times when the relationship between doctors and patients must come first,” said Gratwick. “This bill corrects a well-intentioned attempt to curb the ravages of overdose and addiction and ensures the Legislature doesn’t get between doctors and their patients. I am glad the Governor acted swiftly to sign this into law.”

Dr. Stephen Hull, a board-certified pain medicine physician at Mercy Hospital, testified in support of the bill at the public hearing in April. Hull participated in the rulemaking process associated with opioid prescription strength cap, and told the Health and Human Services Committee that even the very best studies indicate that even pain patients who try valiantly to get off opioids find that they cannot function without them.

Dale Mosher, a chronic pain patient in Bowdoinham, also testified last month. He said he first injured his back in 1965, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he finally received a diagnosis — a tear in the annulus of three disks. Physical therapy, the occasional use of a brace and opioids help him manage his pain.

He told the Health and Human Services Committee that “For some people, opioids are not tolerable. For some they are not very effective, and some get addicted by merely opening a bottle. For the rest of us, they do indeed work.”

Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, was a cosponsor of the bill, and worked with Gratwick on the bill throughout the process.

“I am proud of the Legislature’s bold actions last year to address the loss of one Mainer per day to opioid addiction. However, some folks need a certain level of medication just to function on a day-to-day basis,” said Sen. Dill. “It was not our intention to deny people the prescriptions they need, and I was happy to work with Dr. Gratwick on correcting this oversight.”

The bill was an emergency measure and went into effect immediately after the Governor’s signature on Friday.