Feds Warn About Rapid Opioid Tapers

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Federal health officials are once again urging doctors not to rapidly decrease or abruptly stop prescribing opioid medication to chronic pain patients.

In an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), three federal health officials warn that sudden opioid tapering significantly increases the risk of harm to patients, resulting in increased hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

“There are concerning reports of patients having opioid therapy discontinued abruptly and of clinicians being unwilling to accept new patients who are receiving opioids for chronic pain, which may leave patients at risk for abrupt discontinuation and withdrawal symptoms,” the editorial warns.

The editorial was written by Deborah Dowell, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wilson Compton, MD, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Brett Girior, MD, of the U.S. Public Health Service. Dowell is one of the co-authors of the CDC’s controversial opioid guideline, which has been widely used as an excuse by doctors, insurers and pharmacies to impose mandatory limits on prescribing.  

Even before its release in March 2016, pain patients and advocates warned the CDC guideline would result in rapid tapering, patient abandonment and suicide.

But not until April of this year – after three years of needless deaths and suffering -- did the FDA and CDC start urging doctors to be more cautious in their tapering.

It then took another six months for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to produce a 6-page guide for doctors on how to taper patients.

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“The HHS guide and current guidelines emphasize that tapering should be individualized and should ideally proceed slowly enough to minimize opioid withdrawal symptoms and signs. Physical dependence occurs as early as a few days after consistent opioid use, and when opioids have been prescribed continuously for longer than a few days, sudden discontinuation may precipitate significant opioid withdrawal,” the JAMA editorial warns.

The HHS tapering guide urges doctors not to dismiss pain patients and to share decision making with them when developing a taper program.

“If the current opioid regimen does not put the patient at imminent risk, tapering does not need to occur immediately. Take time to obtain patient buy-in,” the guideline cautions. “There are serious risks to non-collaborative tapering in physically dependent patients, including acute withdrawal, pain exacerbation, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, ruptured trust, and patients seeking opioids from high-risk sources.”

The guide suggests tapers of 5% to 20% every four weeks, although slow tapers of 10% a month may be appropriate for patients taking opioids for more than a year.

A recent study of tapering in Vermont found only 5 percent of patients had a tapering period longer than 90 days. The vast majority (86%) were rapidly tapered in 21 days or less, including about half who were cut off from opioids without any tapering. Many of those patients were hospitalized for an “opioid-related adverse event” -- a medical code that can mean anything from severe withdrawal symptoms to acute respiratory failure.

Another recent study at a Seattle pain clinic found that tapered patients had an unusually high death rate, with some dying from suspected overdoses.

Meanwhile, not a single word of the CDC opioid guideline has changed since federal health officials finally acknowledged it was harming patients and needed clarification.

Has Vaping Hysteria Gone Too Far?

By Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

On Sept. 16, Tulare County in California announced the nation’s seventh death from vaping-related illness. Its advisory warned about “the dangerous effects of using electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes.”

As federal and state health officials struggle to identify what exactly is causing the deadly outbreak, vaping advocates are stepping into the void and crafting an alternative narrative that is being echoed broadly in online communities.

The people getting sick, according to their version of events, all vaped THC — the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — using products bought on an illicit black market. They also contend federal officials have seized on the crisis to crack down on a nicotine vaping culture they don’t appreciate or understand, a culture proponents insist has helped them and millions of others quit smoking.

As of Oct. 1, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified more than 1,000 cases of vaping-related lung illness in 48 states. Eighteen people have died, including two in California. Of the 578 patients who have reported using specific products, most said they had vaped THC, but a significant portion — 17% — said they had used only nicotine.

CDC officials maintain they can’t identify one product or chemical culprit, and while they recently began emphasizing the risks of vaping THC, they continue to warn against any vape use at all.

Meanwhile, cities and states have responded with a divergent mix of warnings and bans. Michigan, New York and Rhode Island have moved to ban most flavored nicotine vaping products. The California Department of Public Health recently warned against all vaping devices, and the governor of Massachusetts issued a four-month ban on all vaping products.

The actions have sparked a backlash among hundreds of thousands of people who say they’ve been vaping for years without a problem. Compounding their distrust: the political calls to ban flavored nicotine products even though the vast majority of illnesses identified appear to involve people who were vaping THC.

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They see a government out to quash nicotine vaping because its popularity with teens has caused a public outcry, ignoring the adults who find it a pleasing alternative to cigarettes. When it comes to vaping, they have stopped looking to the CDC for advice.

Debbye Saladine-Thompson is a registered nurse in Michigan who was a smoker for 32 years before she switched to vaping. She now manages the Michigan Facebook page for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), a nonprofit that advocates for access to e-cigarettes and receives industry funding.

“I do not trust the CDC. Not anymore” Saladine-Thompson said. “I cannot trust an agency that says the product that I and so many people have been using for 10 years and hasn’t caused one death is now causing hundreds of illnesses. No, I do not believe that.”

Online vaping forums are roiling with accusatory messages suspicious of the government response. In Facebook groups, including one called ‘BLACK MARKET THC CARTRIDGES CAUSED THIS QUIT LYING ABOUT VAPOR PRODUCTS,’ vapers have expressed outrage over the bans on nicotine products while cigarettes remain readily available. They’re organizing phone calls to legislators and rallies at state capitols.

“We’re living and dying by these decisions,” said Kristin Noll-Marsh, the member coordinator for CASAA who moderates the group’s national Facebook group. “This vaping panic of 2019 is gonna go down in the history books as being like flat Earth, bloodletting and burning witches.”

CDC Messaging Criticized

Throughout the outbreak, the CDC has said that people who vape to quit smoking should not return to cigarettes. But the emphasis on all vaping devices drowns out that warning, said Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University and proponent of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool.

“In an outbreak investigation like this one, you have to be as specific as possible if you want people to listen. If you say ‘Just don’t vape,’ that’s not telling anyone anything they don’t already know.”

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Many also are critical of the messaging used by the CDC, states and some media outlets, saying they are out of touch with vaping culture and its terminology. Public officials often use one word — e-cigarettes — to describe what to people who vape is a wide range of products with different names.

People who see headlines about illnesses linked to “e-cigarettes” may not know it applies to them, said Jim McDonald, a journalist with Vaping360, a consumer news site. “Cannabis vapers don’t use the term e-cigarettes. They never, never use that term.”

Even among e-cigarettes, a term many equate with nicotine delivery devices, people differentiate between cartridge-based devices like Juul and the handheld “mods,” which tend to be larger and produce more vapor. E-liquids can come prepackaged in ready-to-use form or can be mixed in stores or at home. Whether cannabis is legal and regulated also varies among states.

The problem with the alternative narrative, say doctors who are treating patients, is that it’s not clear whether only illicit THC is to blame. Dr. Dixie Harris, a critical care pulmonologist with Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, has been reporting five to seven cases a week for the past six weeks. While many patients have reported using illicit THC, she also has had patients who have fallen ill after using products purchased at licensed medical dispensaries in states where cannabis is regulated.

A new study looking at lung tissue samples from 17 patients found the damage resembled chemical burns and included two samples from people who fell ill before the outbreak. The findings cast doubt on a popular theory that vitamin E oil, which has been used as a thickening agent in THC oil, is the culprit.

The investigation is challenging on many fronts. Vaping — both legal and illicit, nicotine and cannabis — has exploded in the past few years with little regulation. There are hundreds of products, do-it-yourself kits and home brews. The potential culprits are many: popular flavorings in nicotine vapes never tested for inhalation. Oils used to dilute THC. Contaminants. Pesticides. Possible toxic residue from the containers themselves.

The CDC is grappling with a dearth of information. The process of alerting the many agencies and entities involved — doctors, hospitals, law enforcement, public health departments — has been slow.

Among 86 cases in Illinois and Wisconsin, where the outbreak first was identified and investigators are further along in their work, people reported using 234 different products involving both nicotine and cannabis, according to a report published last month. Those products, in turn, involved a variety of brands, numerous supply chains and packaging without listed ingredients.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said the agency wasn’t narrowing the investigation only to cannabis, stressing it needed to “have an open mind” to understand the possible risks.

“Personally, with all the data that I’ve been seeing,” Schuchat said Friday, “I don’t know what ‘safe’ is right now.”

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Risks of Vaping THC

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

An outbreak of vaping-associated pulmonary illness is getting national attention. Over 800 people have been sickened and 12 have died.

The CDC reported last week that vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- the psychoactive compound in marijuana – were involved in 77 percent of the illnesses. Several states responded with bans on vaping products and health alerts on vaping THC.

What do we know about the risks of vaping?

Vaping THC is so new that there is very little research. An animal study on vaping THC was published earlier this year. Performed on male and female rats, the study found that “repeated THC vapor inhalation in adolescent rats results in lasting consequences observable in adulthood."

Specifically, both sexes became tolerant to THC and male rats ate more. Interestingly, THC use did not change oxycodone self-administration in either sex, but increased fentanyl self-administration in female rats. There is no mention of lung effects.

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While vaping with e-cigarettes is relatively new, inhaling THC via cannabis smoking is old. And there is an extensive literature on multiple harms.

A recent study of nearly 9,000 people found that regular cannabis use was significantly associated with greater risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. The study used blood work to confirm use and had a control group, making its results more reliable than a simple population survey.

According to the National Institute on Drug Use, cannabis smoke contains multiple carcinogens and inhalation causes lung inflammation, increased airway resistance and hyperinflated lungs, a symptom of COPD

Josh Bloom at the American Council of Science and Health writes that the solubility and boiling point of THC and CBD in cannabis vaping products may play a role in the lung illnesses.

But complicating matters is the presence of other subtsances in vaping liquids and in the devices themselves. A newly published study in Scientific Reports on aerosols in tank-style e-cigarettes found levels of chromium, lead and nickel, all known carcinogens, in excess of OSHA permissible exposure limits.

Most cases of vaping-associated pulmonary illness involve illicit products. But one fatal case in Oregon involved someone who bought vaping products at two state-licensed cannabis dispensaries.

Some vaping illnesses involve people who report no use of THC products at all, though investigators are finding that these self-reports are not necessarily accurate. According to STAT News, eight patients in Wisconsin initially said they didn’t use THC products, but were later found to have used the drug.

In other words, we may not know what people were really vaping. Given that vaping THC is federally illegal and only marginally regulated in states where cannabis is legal, investigating the role of THC in the vaping outbreak is challenging.

But the emerging risks have led states like Washington to ban all flavored vaping products. And the FDA has asked the DEA to pursue criminal charges against anyone who sells illicit vaping products.

For patients who use cannabis products for pain relief, there are better alternatives than vaping. The Arthritis Foundation recently released new guidelines that recommend CBD oils and tinctures that can be taken orally.

It is not clear what this means for the cannabis industry. But Joe Tierney, known as the "Gentleman Toker,” told the Washingtonian that he would be shutting down his cannabis website.

“I don’t feel good about the industry any longer,” Tierney said. “I don’t think it’s safe to consume cannabis anywhere after all of my travels.”

Sorting out the risks of THC vaping will take time. At present there is only circumstantial evidence and intriguing ideas. It is possible that THC is one of several different causes or is just guilty by association. Beyond that, we have the unknowns of vaping itself, which may be too novel for anyone to fully understand the risks.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

The information in this column 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.

Outcomes Matter When Opioids Are Tapered

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The drug overdose crisis has led to a rethinking of pain management. Prescription opioids are now seen as risky medications with potentially serious side effects, including addiction and overdose. As a result, there is an increasing push to discontinue or taper patients on long-term opioid therapy.

A recent op/ed in the Annals of Internal Medicine by physicians Roger Chou, Jane Ballantyne and Anna Lembke claims there is “little benefit” from long-term opioid use and “many patients” would benefit from tapering. They even suggest that the use of addiction treatment drugs such as Suboxone should be expanded to include pain patients dependent on opioids.

“Evidence indicates that long-term opioid therapy confers little benefit versus nonopioid therapy, particularly for function. Opioid use disorder (OUD) occurs in a subset of patients, and quality of life may be adversely affected despite perceived pain benefits,” they wrote.

“We argue that achieving effective, safe, and compassionate tapers requires implementing and incentivizing tapering protocols, recognizing prescription opioid dependence as a distinct clinical condition necessitating treatment, and expanding the indication for buprenorphine formulations approved for OUD to include prescription opioid dependence.”

It should be noted Chou is one of the co-authors of the CDC’s controversial opioid prescribing guideline, while Ballantyne and Lembke are board members of the anti-opioid activist group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP). Ballantyne, who is president of PROP, was part of the “core expert group” that advised the CDC when it was drafting its guideline.

What Happens to Tapered Patients?

The goal of improving patient safety is admirable. However, there is relatively little data on what happens to patients during tapering or after opioids are discontinued. The evidence is mixed at best.

A 2018 review in Pain Medicine of 20 studies involving over 2,100 chronic pain patients found that most patients had less pain or the same amount of pain when tapering was completed. But the studies were not controlled and the evidence was of marginal quality, with large amounts of data missing.

A 2019 study in the journal Pain evaluated outcomes in 49 former opioid users with chronic pain. The findings showed that about half the patients reported their pain to be better or the same after stopping opioids, while the other half reported their pain was worse.

There are risks associated with tapering that also need to be considered, such as uncontrolled pain, suicide, overdose and early death. The tapering process itself can be extremely challenging and patient outcomes after discontinuation are not necessarily positive.

A recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine looked at what happened to chronic pain patients being treated at a large urban healthcare system in the year after they were tapered.

For about 5 percent of patients, “termination of care” was the primary outcome – a vague category that means there was no record of them seeking further treatment. Some of those patients may have miraculously gotten better and required no healthcare. And some may have died.

“These findings invite caution and demonstrate the need to fully understand the risks and benefits of opioid tapers,” the authors warned.

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Another study in the same journal is also concerning. Researchers at the University of Washington followed 572 patients who were treated with opioids at a Seattle pain clinic. About 20 percent of the patients died, a high mortality rate, but the death rate was even higher for patients who were tapered. Seventeen of them died from a definite or possible overdose.

“In this cohort of patients prescribed COT (chronic opioid therapy) for chronic pain, mortality was high. Discontinuation of COT did not reduce risk of death and was associated with increased risk of overdose death,” the authors concluded.

"We are worried by these results, because they suggest that the policy recommendations intended to make opioid prescribing safer are not working as intended," said lead author Jocelyn James, assistant professor of general internal medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "We have to make sure we develop systems to protect patients."

In other words, opioid discontinuation does not necessarily lead to better outcomes, as Chou, Ballantyne and Lembke suggest. The blind push to taper patients at all costs to reduce opioid prescribing can have tragic consequences — which no one seems to be tracking.

“Crucially, today’s opioid prescribing metrics take no count of whether the patient lives or dies. Data from two recent studies strongly suggest it is time to start counting. The sooner quality standards are revised in favor of genuine patient protection, the better,” says Stefan Kertesz, MD, an Alabama physician and researcher.

Outcomes matter. And they need to be reasonable for the patient. A person with a self-limiting condition like low back pain may well benefit from opioid discontinuation. But some patients with more chronic conditions do not get better, and their needs cannot go ignored.

The Canadian Psychological Association emphasizes caution and patient safety in a recent position paper on the opioid crisis:  “Tapering must always be done gradually under physician or nurse practitioner supervision, with the patient's consent, and with ongoing support and monitoring of pain and functioning, as well as management of withdrawal symptoms."

The use of prescription opioids should always take patient risks and benefits into consideration. It also requires knowing about outcomes when taking patients off opioids. At present there is too much interest in numbers and too little interest in people.

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Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.

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.

Enough Is Enough!

By David Eaton, Guest Columnist

Back in 2007, when my back pain became so severe that it was affecting my ability to work, I wrote an email to my boss using the subject line, "Enough is Enough!"

My pain level was hindering my ability to concentrate so much that, despite having a college education, I had to ask a friend how to spell the word "place." I could not figure out why "plase" sounded right but looked so wrong.  

The previous night, I could not even read a lesson to the teenagers at my church, despite the fact that I had taught the exact same lesson twice before -- and I was the one who wrote it.

Pain medication and procedures such as epidural nerve blocks and RFA treatments kept my pain under control for most of the past decade, until the CDC introduced its opioid prescribing guideline. As a result, I have been bedridden for most of the past month.

My pain issues began 40 years ago in my senior year of high school, when I was in a motor vehicle accident which resulted in me being thrown through the rear window of the car and landing 35 feet away on my head. The impact caused a compression fracture at the base of my neck and damage to multiple discs as well.

Within a few years, it became necessary for a neurosurgeon to cut a section out of both of the occipital nerves going up the back of my neck and into my scalp as a long-term treatment for the massive headaches I was having.

Unfortunately, the nerves grew back together after 35 years and the migraine headaches have returned --- along with nerve related pain caused by disc degeneration and arthritis.

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Another auto accident 25 years ago caused my knees to slam into the hard dash of my minivan. During the ambulance ride to the hospital, the paramedics told me that I would likely be using a cane within 5 years and in a wheelchair within a decade. They were not far off. I managed to go 13 years before the pain in my knees became so severe that I could no longer climb in and out of my car or walk into the office.

Now, after being on disability for a decade, I am unable to straighten my legs. Attempting to stand, much less walk a step or two, is both excruciating and impossible.

And, if you order right now, we will include a free congenital birth defect that resulted in severe stenosis in my lower back. This was only magnified when I suffered a slipped disc 12 years ago.

It was at that time that I was referred to a pain clinic, which used a combination of medications and procedures to control my pain. Those treatments were very successful. While they did not eliminate the pain, they were at least able to keep it at a manageable level until the CDC stuck their nose between my doctor and myself.

Their guideline has resulted in some pain clinics not prescribing anything stronger than what you can get over the counter. While I am sure that part of the clinics’ decision making included the fact that they make profits off of additional office visits, as well as surgical procedures, the end result is the same: Patients are left hurting and becoming depressed to the point of suicide.  

My doctors regularly question me about suicidal thoughts, as well as a list of other mandatory questions any time I even hint at being depressed. The truth is that I am depressed and have been for quite some time, but even more so now that the pain is so much more severe.

The CDC guideline, a knee-jerk reaction to the opioid epidemic, has resulted in my daily use of extended release opioids to be cut in half. This led to a doubling of not just the amount, but the severity of my pain.

To make matters worse, a change in insurance coverage resulted in me having to be treated by a different pain clinic. The new doctor took me completely off anti-inflammatory medication for the arthritis in my back, neck and knees. The resulting pain wakes me up at the slightest movement. The pain in my knees is so excruciating when I attempt to get from my bed or recliner and into my power chair for a trip to the restroom, that that I put it off as long as I can. 

In addition, the sensory nerves in my legs are now so inflamed that I feel as if someone is stabbing me to the bone or trying to pry off one of my toenails.  I feel as if someone has poured boiling hot coffee down my legs, giving me severe burns on my thighs.

Like I said, enough is enough! I have more pain than I can handle. Something has to give and I am praying that it is a relaxation of the CDC guideline. Maybe it would help if I could get a medical transport van to carry me to the CDC so I could pour a pot of hot coffee down some guy's pants and then check the severity of his burns by repeatedly stabbing him with a meat thermometer.

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David Eaton resides outside of Atlanta, GA with his wife of 36 years. He has 2 grown sons, both married, and 4 beautiful grandkids. Prior to becoming disabled, David worked in the IT field. He was also heavily involved in his church, where he taught Sunday school and served as Youth Minister.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org. 

The information in this column 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.

A Pained Life: Stop Terrorizing Doctors

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

When I visit chronic pain support groups online, it is almost astounding how often posters turn to talking about the “opioid crisis,” no matter the subject of the initial post. One person wrote that she lives in a town where there is not one doctor who will prescribe opioids, no matter what the diagnosis.

I see comments like, “My doctor won't prescribe them for me anymore even though they were helping,” or “My doctor reduced what I was taking without any effort to ask how I was doing.”

Often they’ll add, “My doctor said he has changed his prescribing practices because of the CDC guidelines.”

Human Rights Watch recommended last year that the CDC guideline be revised because too many doctors were using it as an excuse to abruptly cutoff or taper patients.

“Even when medical providers understood that the Guideline was voluntary, they believed they risked punishment or unwanted attention from law enforcement agencies or state medical boards if they maintained patients at high doses,” Human Rights Watch found.

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How does this fear, engendered by political institutions like the CDC and DEA, not fall under the definition of terrorism? This is how Miriam-Webster defines terrorism: 

“The unlawful use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion.”

Granted, the guidelines are not unlawful, but they have had the exact effect of being coercive on many in the medical community. I would also contend that the threat of being arrested and going to prison is a threat of violence.

The guidelines were engendered by the public outcry and governmental concern over the level of opioid overdoses and deaths. The CDC said the guidelines are voluntary, but to many doctors, pharmacies and insurance companies they are enshrined in stone as commandments. They were promulgated as a political response. They were not based on the medical model or the realities of patients in pain.

The point of terrorism is to instill fear. Terrorize one and others will fall in line. The guidelines have had exactly that effect. Accuse one doctor of overprescribing or running a pill mill – even if no charges are actually filed -- and other doctors will change their practices by reducing or refusing to prescribe opioids out of fear of being falsely accused, even when they know doing so will hurt their patients.

And how are patients hurt? Attorney Mark Rothstein, Director of the Institute for Bioethics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, answers that question.

“Many physicians who previously prescribed opioids now have reduced or discontinued such prescriptions, even for established patients with chronic pain. In some cases, the change in policy was adopted literally overnight,” Rothstein wrote in the American Journal of Public Health.

“With no alternatives for pain control... and the physical and mental pressure of unremitting pain, many patients turned to illicit drugs, especially heroin. The result has been greater addiction, more deaths from overdoses, and an increase in cases of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis from contaminated syringes.”

It is long past time to end what has been interpreted as policy, a policy that hurts patients and the community. It’s time for the terrorism to stop.

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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.

How Pain Patients Feel About the Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

We received an overwhelming response from readers to Diana’s Franklin guest column on how the opioid crisis has affected her. Diana has suffered from scoliosis since she was a child and now has degenerative disc disease. For many years oxycodone helped Diana manage her chronic back pain, but she can no longer get it.

Diana considers herself collateral damage of a crisis she had nothing to do with.

“The government stopped allowing my doctor to prescribe any opioids, leaving many of his patients, including myself, without any pain medication at all,” Diana wrote.

“I can hardly get up to go across the room without help and every step causes extreme pain. I can't think straight and wind up exhausted because every ounce of energy I have goes to fighting the pain.”

Diana’s story hit home with hundreds of readers who left comments or sent us emails.

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“Just recently my doctor said that he was gonna have to stop prescribing me my opioid pain medication,” wrote Jeffrey Ticich, who suffers from scoliosis, stenosis, a herniated disc, and recently had his right leg amputated.

“When my doctor takes my opioid pain medication away from me, I will start looking for a burial plot. I have suffered most of my life with severe chronic acute pain and I will not suffer anymore. There has got to be a solution for patients that are suffering and not abusing their opiate pain medication.”

“I am a disabled law enforcement officer. I was hurt in a car crash years ago responding to a rape in progress. The only way I've had any quality of life is with the pain medication,” wrote a man who didn’t want his name used. “Life has been really rough since (they) restricted pain medication. Also think of all the injured veterans. What a way to say thanks for your service.”

“I've suffered with neuropathy for almost 15 years. It's very painful, especially in my lower legs. I find it difficult to even walk to the mailbox and back,” said Leslie Rowland, who is 70. “I too am a case of collateral damage when it comes to pain meds. I've loved to fish all my life but had to give it up this year due to the pain. Please, someone with a voice needs to be heard for people like me. All I want is not to be in pain 24/7 and to have a decent quality of life.”

CDC Guideline Unchanged

Many pain patients thought their voices were finally being heard last April, when CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, acknowledged that many insurers, pharmacies, states and practitioners were implementing the agency’s 2016 opioid guideline as a mandatory policy.

“The Guideline does not endorse mandated or abrupt dose reduction or discontinuation, as these actions can result in patient harm. The Guideline includes recommendations for clinicians to work with patients to taper or reduce dosage only when patient harm outweighs patient benefit of opioid therapy,” said Redfield.

“CDC is working diligently to evaluate the impact of the Guideline and clarify its recommendations to help reduce unintended harms.”

Five months later, not a word of the CDC guideline has changed. And many doctors, insurers and pharmacies are still reducing opioid dosages or cutting off patients.   

“My pain doctor keeps reducing my pain medicine dose to the point that it's almost ineffective, thanks to our government's unrealistic guidelines. And instead of going after the real culprits of the problem (the dealers), they're putting the blame on the doctors,” wrote Richard Parrish. “Those of us who really need help are paying the price for our inept government's prescribing guidelines. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!”

“I have been in pain since last October from neck pain that travels to the back of my ear from whiplash,” wrote Lois Henkin. “I have been to all kinds of doctors, had physical therapy, had facet joint shots, cervical steroid shots, etc. with no change in the pain.

“I was put on gabapentin for the pain, with no results. I switched to Tramadol, which works, but now because of the opioid crisis, I am not even given 1 pill a day. This is not fair to people that have severe pain. Just limit the meds to the drug addicts.”

Many readers, like Debra Christian, said they felt abandoned and misunderstood.

“Unless you live in chronic pain, then you don't understand it, nor do you know what it does to a person and how it changes the person they were,” Christian wrote. “We don't have lives. We’re just existing.

“This is a problem. This is a travesty. This is a financial burden. And I am an American who wants to still work, but I can’t. It will be up to me to fight with whatever strength I have left, if I want any quality from my life that I and so many others deserve.”

In PNN’s recent survey of nearly 6,000 patients, over 85 percent said the guideline has made their pain and quality of life worse. Nearly half say they have considered suicide because their pain is poorly treated.