Pain and Addiction Should Be Treated Separately

By Emily Ullrich, Columnist

Once again, the lack of humanity, honesty, and desire to provide quality pain care to patients on the part of doctors, hospitals, and medical and government organizations has astounded me.

Andrew Kolodny, MD, the founder and Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), whose name seems to be six degrees of separation from all movements to thwart proper pain care, has submitted a petition asking Medicare to stop requiring hospitals to survey patients about the quality of their pain management.

A group of U.S. senators has gone even further, introducing the PROP Act in Congress, which would prevent Medicare by law from making "any assessments" of pain in hospitalized patients.

As I and others have written, pain is not merely discomfort. It is unhealthy and can even be life-threatening. If a patient is left in severe, unattended pain during a hospital stay, their acute pain can become chronic, triggering a host of other medical problems, such as high blood pressure, impaired immune function, ulcers, rashes, anxiety and depression. So, reporting one’s pain care while hospitalized is essential to the outcome of healing.

But, according to Kolodny and others who signed his petition, asking patients about their pain care leads to “dangerous pain control practices” and “aggressive opioid use.”

My question is, since patient surveys have contained pain evaluating questions for years, where is the evidence that doctors have over-medicated patients so their hospitals will have satisfactory survey ratings?

My guess is there is none. I have been hospitalized and suffered untreated or undertreated pain many times. I not only filled out surveys, but called hospital administrators, wrote the Joint Commission for hospital accreditation, and more, and STILL received sub-par pain care from doctors.

I am not alone. A recent survey of over 1,200 patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation found that over half rated the quality of their pain care in hospitals as either poor or very poor.

My next question is why doesn’t Kolodny want people to know about our pain? I suspect I know the answer.

As mentioned earlier, Kolodny can be traced back to nearly every movement to intervene in the proper medication of pain patients. In addition to running PROP, he is chief medical officer for the addiction treatment chain Phoenix House, and seemingly has an elaborate plan to have every patient on opioids be treated as an “addict.”  

This brings me to one final question. Why doesn’t any major American media outlet look into the conspicuous ulterior motives of Kolodny, PROP and Phoenix House? I am not much on conspiracy theories, but at this point I am compelled to say there might be something there, but our government and society are already so brainwashed to associate pain with addiction that no media outlet will touch it. Not to mention the political funding and special interest groups that also have a stake in this.

It all boils down to money. Healthcare in this country is treating pain on a financial hierarchy. The Obama administration has bought into the CDC guidelines on opioid prescribing, and the passing of the PROP Act will only further the notion that pain and addiction are one in the same.

Despite what we are being told, pain and addiction are two different issues, which need to be addressed separately. If this havoc wreaking discrimination continues, there will be no such thing as pain care left in this country.

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Emily Ullrich suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Endometriosis,  Interstitial Cystitis, migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, anxiety, insomnia, bursitis, depression, multiple chemical sensitivity, and chronic pancreatitis

Emily is a writer, artist, filmmaker, and has even been an occasional stand-up comedian. She now focuses on patient advocacy for the International Pain Foundation, as she is able.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.