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‘Pain-demic’: Fallout from COVID-19 congressional briefing

Opioid epidemic, guidelines for pain management

OW Staff Writer | 8/6/2020, midnight

The “Pain-demic” bi-partisan virtual briefing hosted by the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC) and the Congressional Caucus for Integrative Health and Wellness highlighted how COVID-19 has exacerbated the nation’s raging opioid crisis and amplified the need to remove barriers to essential cost effective, non-opioid, non-drug pain treatments.

“Unfortunately, the measures we have taken to control the spread of the Corona Virus have only exacerbated our fight against another crisis, the Opioid epidemic,” stated Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) co-chair of the Congressional Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus.

This briefing identified current highly effective federally sponsored programs that are proving the effectiveness of non-opioid, non-drug pain management. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Task Force Chairperson and pain management expert, Vanila Singh, M.D. presented the groundbreaking findings and recommendations of her 29-member, inter-agency task force, in their exceptional Best Practices in Pain Management report.

“The Congressionally mandated Pain Management Report establishes a 360-degree strategy to effectively address the various chronic painful conditions in a patient-centered, individualized manner that presents all the various treatment modalities utilizing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic integrative health solutions,” stated Singh. “The recommended best practices present effective and compassionate approaches to acute and chronic pain with the aim to improve clinical best outcomes with an improved quality of life for the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain,”

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) are leading the way in implementing the HHS Task Force best practices to address the opioid crisis. FQHC’s are the nation’s largest public healthcare safety net caring for 30 million children and adults who are part of our rapidly growing Community Health Center population.

Sharad Kohli, M.D., a FQHC family physician, detailed his experience “in the trenches” bringing non-drug, innovative pain management programs to some of the hardest hit communities in Austin, Texas. Kohli shared that a major challenge is that these effective non-drug approaches are not reimbursed through insurance programs.

“If we can figure out how to make the non-drug treatments reimbursable, then we could widely expand our services and would not be dependent on limited grant funds.” said Kohli. He also stated that he is uncertain how many FQHC’s are currently using these effective non-drug pain approaches as there has not been a survey to assess how many Clinics are adopting the recommendations as yet.

“We are working to expand access to non-opioid alternatives to pain management, and committed to educating patients and providers about these innovative options,” stated Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), caucus co-chair and supporter of recent key language in the 2021 Appropriations Bill to that effect. Indeed, the U.S. House of Representatives included language in a report accompanying its version of the Fiscal Year 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services develop a plan for disseminating and implementing the Task Force Report’s recommendations.

“It is essential that as we look towards recovery, we ensure that Integrative Health policies are included,” Chu said. “We need to ensure that patients have access to non-opioid, non-surgical options like Acupuncture, to treat their chronic pain. These therapies are non-addictive and do not carry similar risks of overdose.”