By Anne Fuqua, Guest Columnist
There’s an article in the Boston Globe this week about doctors who stopped prescribing opioid pain medication, even when they knew it might be harmful to patients.
As a registered nurse, I never expected to be on the other side of this issue. But primary generalized dystonia and surgical complications inducted me into the “chronic pain club” 17 years ago.
As a patient in Alabama, I can attest to the fact that there is an overwhelming atmosphere of fear among physicians about prescribing opioids.
In 2012, seven Alabama doctors were investigated for over-prescribing. Two years later that number sky-rocketed to 44 investigations. The very few doctors that still prescribe are now distrustful of their most reliable, long-term patients.
When my own well-respected doctor of nine years left pain management out of fear for his license, I had my medical records sent to almost 60 different physicians in the state.
None of them were willing to treat me.
This was the most difficult and physically painful time of my life. In just a few weeks’ time, I went from driving and being thrilled to start a part-time job as an “Obamacare Navigator” to being barely able care for myself independently. I had no quality of life whatsoever. Over a year later, I still have lasting physical effects from the wear and tear of severe spasms on my body.
Beyond simple pain relief, opioid medication has always exerted a direct effect on my dystonia and makes a huge difference. It’s far more than the benefit I received from any of the medications typically prescribed for dystonia (and without their side effects). I’m so grateful to have the life I have today, even if I don’t live in the same body I did before I was forced to taper my medications.
Of the nearly 60 doctors I contacted 18 months ago, not a single one is still treating chronic pain patients. Those that didn’t stop out of fear for their licenses have been investigated by the state medical board or raided by law enforcement.
We have entered an era where politicians, bureaucrats and licensing board members are now practicing unlicensed medicine by dictating the care that healthcare professionals should provide.
Forcing patients with chronic pain to suffer because some people abuse opioids is no different than jailing someone just because you think they might commit a crime someday. This type of government over-reach directly contradicts the principles on which our nation was founded
We need more emphasis on determining who is at risk of developing addiction and the ability to provide a necessary structure for their safe use of medication. Treatment should be available without stigma for those who need it.
The same grace of withholding stigma that we provide to addicts should also be given to chronic pain patients. Responsible patients have done nothing to deserve the horrible stigma they often face because they require opioids for a decent quality of life.
Life without quality isn’t living at all. There is no more of a “pro-life” issue than controlling pain and providing quality of life. If you are pro-life and don’t support physician-assisted death, then you need to support physician-assisted quality of life. And that means pain management that utilizes opioids when necessary.
This isn’t a special interest issue. It’s everyone’s business. If you haven’t been affected or known someone who has, you will. As a society, it’s our moral imperative to care for the least among us. Relieving pain is the least we can do – and when life expectancy is limited, it’s the most we can do.
Anne Fuqua has primary generalized dystonia. She is a former registered nurse and does volunteer work with at-risk youth and in animal rescue. Anne is very involved with patient advocacy efforts, pushing for access to all forms of therapy, including opioids.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
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.