West Virginia Moves to Stop Opioid Madness

By Kenny Brooks, Guest Columnist

When most people think of West Virginia, they think about mountains, coal mines and miners.  The number of coal miners in West Virginia suffering from black lung, cancer and other chronic illnesses plays a significant role in the state's high rate of disability, estimated at nearly 20 percent of the population. 

Many military veterans in West Virginia also suffer from lifelong pain and disability, as do injured public safety employees, police, firefighters and paramedics. I was severely injured as a paramedic in a work related accident and now live with arachnoiditis, a painful inflammation in my spine that will never go away.

All of this pain and disability has a significant impact on our state. The per capita income of West Virginia is only about $37,000 a year, making it one of the poorest states in the union.  About 23% of West Virginians live below the national poverty line.  We rank 5th highest in suicide and have the highest overdose death rate in the country.

West Virginia was one of the first states to crackdown on pill mills and doctors who overprescribe opioids, but opioid overdoses continue rising, especially from heroin, illicit fentanyl and addicts taking pain medication.

The CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines only made things worse for real pain patients, causing many to be under treated or abandoned by doctors who took an oath to relieve pain and suffering.

West Virginia lawmakers have seen enough of this suffering. In an unprecedented move, the legislature this month passed Senate Bill 339, with the goal of restoring the integrity of chronic pain management in the state.

The bill was introduced by State Senator Tom Takubo, DO, a pulmonary physician who specializes in treating patients suffering from lung and breathing problems.  Dr. Takubo understands the ethical duty to act, and to help alleviate chronic suffering and pain from incurable chronic conditions.

Senate Bill 339 was approved unanimously by both the House and Senate, and was signed this week into law by the governor.  It recognizes that regulations have caused “patients seeking pain treatment to suffer from a lack of treatment options” and that “prescribers should have the flexibility to effectively treat patients who present with chronic pain.”

The bill also establishes a commission -- called the Coalition for Responsible Chronic Pain Management -- to advise the legislature if a “less cumbersome” manner exists to regulate pain care in the state.

The Coalition will consists of the following members:  The Dean of the School of Public Health at West Virginia University, a physician board certified in pain management, three physicians licensed to practice in West Virginia, a licensed pharmacist, a licensed chiropractor, a licensed physical therapist experienced in the area of chronic pain, and a consumer of healthcare services directly impacted by pain clinic regulations – in other words, a pain patient.

We have about a month before the appointments are made and I am hopeful that I will be appointed as the patient representative. I hope to bring to the Coalition not only my experience as a pain patient, but my experience as a paramedic.  I spent many hours in school years ago learning about medical and legal issues, and believe I have a unique perspective to bring to the table.

My goals are simple: to change the regulations and prescribing guidelines back to individualized patient centered care, not addiction centered algorithms. I am also concerned about doctors being afraid to treat pain patients due to legal reprisals.

I hope to bring a voice of reason to the Coalition, and to help other states look at what we are doing in West Virginia to stop the opioid madness.  

Kenny Brooks is an arachnoiditis survivor and former career firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland.  He loves his family, his church, his dog, his friends, and he feels very blessed to have a great team of medical doctors and pharmacists who understand quality of life medical care. Kenny became more involved in politics following the sad consequences he witnessed in other arachnoiditis patients due to the CDC guidelines. 

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.