As the opioid epidemic ravages American lives, every federal agency with an opportunity to review access is stepping up efforts to find appropriate lines between offering proper care and potentially enabling abuse.

In a recent statement, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, acknowledged the challenge of balancing quality care efforts with overprescribing medications and the potential ease of access to opioids.

“While we work to ensure appropriate and rational prescribing of opioids, we won’t lose sight of the needs of Americans living with serious chronic pain or coping with pain at the end of life,” Gottlieb said. “They too face significant challenges.”

ONS has been a constant advocate to policymakers and agency representatives about the importance of pain management in cancer care, cautioning against overregulation in the oncology community that could potentially preclude access for patients in need of chronic pain medication. The Society has been working with lawmakers to help them understand the opioid issue and the process of symptom management to illustrate the need for balance and perspective in the opioid debate.

In July 2018, the FDA held open sessions for public comment on the process of opioid prescription, welcoming suggestions and stories from patients and providers. Recommendations included assistance from medical and health professional societies, launching a new innovation challenge that seeks assistance from devices, and improving National Institutes of Health efforts to find public-private partnerships in pharmacologic treatment for pain and addiction.

FDA also encouraged professional organizations to develop evidence-based guidelines for prescribing opioids based on specific medical indications. Working alongside the FDA, these organizations can help address opioid issues plaguing certain populations and disease types. The goal is for the developed guidelines to help direct clinical practice and lead to lower rates of opioid addiction and abuse.