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By Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

State by state, the U.S. is enacting better health policy on the issue of pain management. So says “Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy,” a report card on 2013 data prepared by The University of Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group. This year’s publication reveals that 15 states now have “A” grade policy and that 24 states have improved their policy since 2012. Nevertheless, advocates and researchers say maintaining a pro-patient policy environment – and motivating states that still lag behind – leaves more work to be done.

The research, jointly funded by the American Cancer Society, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, evaluated state policies’ ability to balance two primary pain policy goals: 1) facilitating access for patients who legitimately need pain treatment and 2) keeping medication away from addicts and individuals who would misuse them. The organization then assigned a letter grade between “A” and “F” based on 16 evaluation criteria.

States earned points for policy language that encourages pain management, acknowledges medical use of opioids as legitimate medical practice and addresses practitioners’ concerns about regulatory scrutiny. Researchers deducted points for policy language that confuses physical tolerance for pain medication with addiction, unduly restricts medical decisions or relegates opioids to a last-resort treatment method.

While this year’s progress encourages cancer advocates, Aaron Gilson of the Pain & Policy Studies Group noted that a state’s grade does not necessarily correlate with the quality of pain management that individual patients within that state receive. Even patients in “A”-grade states may encounter care that doesn’t adequately address their pain.

Thus, the State Pain Policy Advocacy Network encourages advocates to use the report’s information to continue pushing for improvements. By monitoring laws and encouraging widespread education on pain management, advocates hope to encourage more states to adopt patient-centered policy – avoiding blanket restrictions in favor of a balanced approach that allows physicians to address the needs of those in pain.

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