A Pained Life: Pennsylvania’s Opioid Law Ignores Us

By Carol Levy, Columnist

Recently I received an email update from my state senator. He wanted to let me know about  efforts in the Pennsylvania legislature to address the "opiate crisis.”

I have written before that I believe some of what has been proposed throughout the country makes sense, a prescription monitoring database, for instance. Much of what is being considered in Pennsylvania also makes sense to me:

  • Labels on opioid prescription bottles warning of their addictive nature
  • Written consent from parents in order for their children to receive prescription opioids
  • A safe opioid prescribing curriculum in Pennsylvania’s medical schools to better educate future doctors about proper opioid prescribing practices
  • Insurance plans to provide access and share the cost of abuse-deterrent opioids
  • Mandatory reporting of all heroin and opioid overdoses where naloxone was administered
  • Implementation of opioid prescribing guidelines developed by a state task force
  • Healthcare providers to discuss the risks of opioid addiction and overdose with patients and to receive written consent from a patient before prescribing them

But there are two provisions of the law I find very concerning, one being a requirement that coroners and medical examiners report the death of any person resulting from a drug overdose.

One of the issues surrounding the reporting of deaths arising from opioids is that other medical conditions, such as the use of alcohol or illegal drugs, are often ignored and the death is counted as an opioid overdose.

That is not only poor research, but gives a false picture of what is the effectual cause of the death. Ignoring those other factors means ignoring other issues that the law needs to be addressing.

The second issue I have with the law is alarming: limiting the prescription of opioids to seven days. This ignores chronic pain sufferers and the long-term need for opioid medication, which is often our only or last available treatment.

The change we saw, in many states, was requiring a visit to the doctor for a new prescription every 6 months to needing one every 3 months. That was bad enough.  I recall needing to go only once a year, but that was in the 1970's and 80's.

If you have trouble moving, tolerating the weather or other issues, being forced to go see the doctor every three months is an issue. In addition, co-pays rise, insurance companies pay more for extra visits and may raise your rates as a result, and the cost to the state and federal government through increased Medicaid/Medicare billing soars.

I decided to research this. I found that New York State has imposed a 7-day limit on prescriptions, but the law contains exceptions for those with chronic pain or who are receiving hospice or palliative care for life threatening illnesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania legislators have decided to ignore those in chronic pain. The bill includes exceptions only for hospice and patients receiving palliative care.

The government has acted as doctor in many other instances; such as women's health care, declaring some drugs illegal, and allowing certain medications and procedures while denying others. I understand that. There needs to be limitations and oversight.

But this is not oversight or limitation.  This is a frenzied and illogical response to an “epidemic” that is not caused or perpetuated by those of us with chronic pain, but is nevertheless being taken out on us.

Politicians who point at us and claim they are handling the crisis are ignoring the real culprits, which is those who abuse drugs illegally.

The question has to be asked. 

How in the world does this law address the opioid epidemic, as opposed to merely blaming and punishing those with chronic pain?

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

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