CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office has announced that the state will follow federal guidelines for prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain, a move hailed by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Tomblin’s office said the plan to adhere to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines was developed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency in conjunction with private insurers, pain specialists, pharmacists and other West Virginia medical providers. They have developed new prior authorization requirements and an opioid treatment plan template as part of the state's ongoing efforts to curb opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths.

"With more than 600 opiate-related overdose deaths in West Virginia last year, we must continue making every positive change we can to break the cycle of addiction," Tomblin said in a statement. "I am pleased that our two health agencies are working together to promote safe and effective chronic pain management. These new guidelines will give physicians and patients the facts they need to make more informed decisions about treatment."

The CDC recommends that opioids should not be considered a first-choice treatment, and that patients should be educated about and agree to all treatment decisions regarding chronic pain. It is also recommended that providers should consider potential opioid abuse, including diversion of opioid medication, when pursuing treatment, as well as take measures to prevent abuse.

"This effort is a collaboration built on the CDC's recommendations, as well as input from West Virginia medical professionals," DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen L. Bowling said in a statement. "The state intends to implement these guidelines to reduce the opportunity for opioid overuse and abuse while preserving access to necessary drugs for those patients who truly need them."

DHHR's Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, Bureau for Medical Services, and Bureau for Public Health will begin offering education to providers this month. Prior authorization forms will be formally adopted on Jan. 1 for Medicaid and PEIA prescribers. Populations that will be exempted from the prior authorization process include cancer, palliative and hospice patients

Morrisey welcomed the strategy, which his office unveiled in draft form this May and finalized in August. He said it carries broad state and national support, and it aims to cut prescription opioid use by at least 25 percent through reducing the drug’s use as a first-line therapy option, while preserving legitimate patient access to necessary treatment.

“I welcome and appreciate the Governor joining my office’s long-standing effort to advance best practices and ask that he endorse our specific strategy, which already has the backing of more than 25 groups, so West Virginia can have a united stand against opioid abuse,” Morrisey said.

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