Chronic pain patients who rely on opioids for pain relief feel under siege. Because of concerns about opioid addiction and overdose, federal, state and local governments have been instituting policies that discourage opioid prescribing. In response, many physicians are indiscriminately reducing the amount of opioids they prescribe. In some cases, they are quickly and drastically cutting dosages and sometimes even abruptly cutting patients off from their medication. This throws patients into opioid withdrawal, which compounds the problems from losing access to medication that has been helping them to control their pain. Patients who still have access to opioids are understandably worried too. These policy changes and the physician response are causing significant and unnecessary suffering.
However, pain patients don’t help their cause by referring to the “so-called opioid epidemic”, denigrating people who become addicted as somehow morally deficient and to blame for their condition or suggesting government conspiracies that involve making money off denying patients pain relief are behind the new policies. The reality is that the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history. This epidemic started with indiscriminate prescribing of opioids after pharmaceutical companies lied to physicians about the addictive potential of these drugs. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died of overdoses and millions more have become addicted. Individuals, families and communities have been devastated and the scope of the epidemic keeps increasing. One small town in West Virginia, for example, population 30,000, recently had 23 overdoses in one day. Addiction treatment providers report that 75-80% of the new heroin addicts they see started with prescription opioids, many for legitimate medical purposes.
There are two reasons for the situation pain patients find themselves in and two strategies that will help improve things. The first is that the federal government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), criminalizes doctors who prescribe opioids for legitimate medical purposes. Many doctors have lost their licenses, had all their assets seized and some have gone to jail because the DEA treats physicians they accuse of “overprescribing” as drug dealers. While there have been some “pill mills’ set up by physicians for this purpose, the majority of targeted doctors are not in this class. You can find a more extensive discussion of this problem in my book, The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free. Physicians are understandably concerned about these risks. So, one strategy that can help pain patients is a campaign to stop criminalizing doctors for legitimate prescribing.
The other problem is that physicians have little education in pain management, especially nonpharmacologic interventions, and their patients have few options for treatment due to lack of insurance reimbursement for alternative treatments. As a result, patients with less complex pain problems whose pain could be relieved by physical therapy, chiropractic, massage, biofeedback, herbal or nutritional interventions, low level laser therapy, psychotherapy, medical marijuana or other, less risky therapies are given potentially addictive drugs instead. Advocating for legislation that would require physician education about and insurance coverage of these alternative therapies would help all pain patients. Please sign and share my petition related to this on www.change.org.
Pain patients are suffering because of the recent opioid prescribing changes. However, there are more effective ways to address this issue than denying the reality of others’ suffering.
To learn more about safe and effective chronic pain treatments, read my book, The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free, available on Amazon.