Are Chronic Pain Patients Unfairly Suffering Due to Stricter Opioid Laws?
Author: Shernide Delva
The opioid epidemic continues to worsen year after year. In 2015, painkillers and heroin killed more than 33,000 people, according to the CDC. About half of those overdoses involved prescription pain medication.
New policies and laws introduced in recent years aim to prevent the number of opioid prescriptions distributed. However, these stricter policies come riddled with negative consequences. For example, chronic pain sufferers are finding it more and more difficult to manage their pain with opioids now that some of these laws have been implemented.
An article in The Tennessean references a woman named Bridget Rewick. Rewick has experienced pain for all of her adult life. At 56 years old, she is on disability. She does not work and worries about the strain on her body from being out. Pain swells through her body causing her to need a cane to walk.
She has avascular necrosis, which means her bone tissues are dying faster than her body can repair it. Rewick uses opioid painkillers to manage her pain. However, these days, when she goes to the pharmacist, she says she gets looks. She admits she feels judged by the increasingly conscious medical community.
“I am almost afraid to go to the doctor sometimes to say I have pain,” Rewick says. “Because I don’t want be seen as a pill seeker.”
Unfortunately for Rewick, she has more than judgment to worry about. The recent federal crackdowns on drug abuse have resulted in stricter guidelines on the use of opioids to address chronic pain.
Opioid Limits State by State
In Tennessee, there is now a limit set by the Department of Health on how many daily doses of opioids doctors may prescribe. New guidelines spell out protocols for giving drugs to women of child-bearing age and establish certification requirements for pain medicine specialist.
Tennessee is not the only state seeing these types of policies. Across the country, new legislatures limit the amount of opioids and range of opioids that can be prescribed. Therefore, chronic pain patients are finding it increasingly difficult to manage their pain, without having to overcome assumptions and red tape.
In fact, some doctors have opted to stop prescribing opioids completely.
This leaves those with legitimate chronic pain with fewer places to turn to. While most chronic pain patients agree that it is absolutely necessary to tackle opioid addiction issues, they still believe there are legitimate pain sufferers who struggle to find relief.
“This epidemic has destroyed people’s lives, and I think the motivation (to regulate) is appropriate,” Rewick says. “But they don’t understand the ramifications of how pain affects people every day. … I am not expecting to be completely without pain, but I have the right to have quality of life.”
In the United States, at least 100 million adults suffer from common chronic pain conditions. Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting longer than 90 days. Chronic pain can range from disease to injury. Sometimes the cause of chronic pain is unknown.
Sadly, chronic pain reduces quality of life and productivity. It disturbs sleep and can lead to anxiety and depression. Chronic pain is the leading cause of long-term disability.
Building Relationships and Trust
Furthermore, it is difficult for doctors to know if a patient is authentic. No one can look a patient and know for sure if their claim of pain is insecure.
Dr. John Guenst, an internal medicine doctor with Saint Thomas Medical Group, sees chronic pain patients all the time. He believes the relationship is the most important factor.
“You have to listen to their story; you have to examine them, you have to start from scratch without your bias and turn over every stone that is reasonable,” he said. “You are giving patients the benefit of the doubt.”
Guenst said his opioid prescription rate “is very low compared to my peers, but I am not afraid to use them.”
Clinics Say No to Opioid Prescriptions?
Still, some medical professionals have decided not to prescribe all-together. Last year, Tennova, one of the largest health systems in Tennessee, decided to no longer prescribe long-term opioid pain medications to patients at two pain management clinics.
This was a response to recent CDC guidelines. Although the guidelines set by the CDC are voluntary, many doctors around the country are adopting them and are weaning patients off opioids or choosing not to prescribe them at all.
These sudden changes come with good intentions; however, it remains a tricky manner. Untreated chronic pain is connected to depression, mental illness, financial problems, and even further substance abuse.
What is the solution to this? Time will tell. However, it is clear this is a serious problem with an even more complicated solution. If you are currently struggling with substance abuse, please call now. We want to help.