By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
April Doyle was frustrated and angry when she left a Rite Aid pharmacy Monday in her hometown of Visalia, California. A pharmacist there had once again refused to fill her prescription for opioid pain medication, so she got into her car and tearfully recorded a video that she uploaded to Twitter.
“I’m frustrated and that’s why I’m crying,” Doyle said, looking into her cell phone camera. “I’ve had a hard time getting my pain pills filled from them.”
Doyle’s story is a familiar one to millions of pain sufferers, who often have trouble getting their opioid prescriptions filled at pharmacies across the country. But her story is a bit different. The 40-year old single mom has Stage 4 terminal breast cancer that has metastasized into her lungs, spine and hip. Doyle’s oncologist wrote a prescription for Norco — an opioid medication — to relieve some of her pain.
“And when you have metastatic cancer in your bones, you need it. Because sometimes the pain is so much you can’t even function. And I just want to function. I want to be able to go to work and I want to be able to sleep. And I want to be able to do things with my child. I just want it not to hurt all the time,” Doyle said.
Within days, Doyle’s 6-minute video would go viral on Twitter and Facebook, where it’s been viewed over 200,000 times. She’d also get apologies from a Rite Aid vice-president, the store manager and the pharmacist who refused to fill her prescription.
Doyle was no stranger at that Rite Aid store. It’s right around the corner from her house and she’s been shopping there for 20 years. It’s where she’s been getting her prescriptions filled for chemotherapy, anti-depressants and anti-nausea drugs — all written by her oncologist. But Rite Aid always seemed to have trouble filling that prescription for Norco.
“I have to take 20 pills a day just to stay alive,” Doyle explains in the video. “Every time I take my pain pill prescription there, they give me the runaround. They don’t have enough in stock or they need me to come back tomorrow because they can’t fill it today. Or something stupid. It’s always something and it’s always some stupid excuse.”
Federal and state prescribing guidelines – and those of insurers – specifically exempt cancer pain from restrictions on opioid medication. But some cancer patients still get turned away at pharmacies. According to Doyle, the Rite Aid pharmacist told her he was worried about being fined or even losing his job if he filled her opioid prescription.
Some of that caution is understandable. Rite Aid and other major pharmacy chains were recently added as defendants in opioid lawsuits filed by the firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy. In the current climate of opioid hysteria and litigation, every step of the drug supply chain, from manufacturers to wholesalers to retailers is under scrutiny. Billions of dollars are at stake. Caught in the middle are pharmacists and patients like April Doyle.
“It’s not right. I’m not a criminal. I’m not a drug addict. I don’t even take them as often as my doctor says to take them. It’s not fair,” she said.
Astonished at Reaction
Doyle has been shocked at the response her video has gotten from the pain community. And surprised at how common her story is. Hundred of people left comments on Doyle’s Facebook page after watching her video.
“Stop giving your money to Rite Aid! You deserve dignity and great customer service,” one supporter wrote. “This whole opioid epidemic is making it impossible for those who medically need the meds. We all have our own story to share. This has to stop!”
“It’s hard to be sick and have people who don’t understand what you’re going through judge you,” said another supporter. “I hope you can find a pharmacy that will treat you with dignity and the compassion you deserve.”
“I know this oh too well trying to get my mom’s scripts filled when she was battling cancer running from store to store feeling and looking like a junkie. It was the most horrible part of it all!” said another.
“It’s astonishing the reaction it has gotten. I had no idea this was so common. It’s actually kind of sad how common it is,” Doyle told PNN. “It really struck a nerve with what’s apparently a big problem. I’m just dumbfounded by it.”
A Rite Aid spokesman said he could not comment on Doyle’s case.
“At Rite Aid, we are committed to providing high-quality care to all of our customers and patients. Rite Aid is not able to provide additional detail due to patient privacy,” Chris Savarese, Rite Aid Director of Public Relations said in an email.
Although the company has apologized to Doyle, she does not intend to go back to her neighborhood Rite Aid.
“I have decided to find a locally owned mom and pop pharmacy that really wants the business,” she said.