Senate gives initial OK to Gratwick’s bill restoring doctor-patient relationship in pain treatment

Posted: June 13, 2017 | Health and Human Services, Senator Gratwick

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate on Tuesday gave unanimous, initial approval to LD 1031, a bill by Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, that would provide necessary flexibility to doctors in prescribing opioid medications to patients with severe, chronic pain.

The bill, “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.

“Prescription opioids have played an undeniable role in the rapid growth of addiction and overdose in our state, and the Legislature was right to craft policy to limit the strength of prescription opioids,” said Sen. Gratwick. “However, doctors and patients need the flexibility to craft treatment plans that work. This bill addresses a well-intended mistake and makes clear that the Legislature won’t get in the way of patients and their doctors.”

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.”

The bill received the support of several other doctors, medical students and patients at the public hearing. The bill now heads to the House for an initial vote.