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.

Can Pain Patients Sue the CDC?

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

Almost every report on the CDC opioid guideline that I’ve seen online gets this response from pain patients: “Class action lawsuit! Sue the CDC!” 

Many doctors cite the CDC’s opioid guideline when they stop writing prescriptions for opioids or reduce the amount they prescribe. Many of their patients say the tapering left them bedridden and unable to work because the pain returned to unbearable levels. Some even attempted or completed suicide as a result of no longer having the relief that opioids gave them.  

Is that enough grounds for a class action lawsuit against the CDC?  I am not an attorney, but I wondered if there is a basis for such a lawsuit.

Based on my research, the pain community does not meet the necessary legal criteria to do this.  

Aside from the difficulties of suing a federal agency, one of the many rule requirements in federal court to certify a class action lawsuit is this: “the class must show that the defendant acted in a way generally applicable to class members.” 

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Few of us can point to the CDC guideline as the specific reason their doctor is no longer prescribing opioids at the same dose. It would need to be proven that all members of the class were treated in essentially the same way by the defendant CDC.

And it is doctors who changed their prescribing routines, not the CDC. Therefore, it appears we cannot form the requisite “class.” 

In addition, the CDC’s clarification of the guideline in June passed the buck by blaming individual practitioners for the guideline’s misuse:

“Unfortunately, some policies and practices purportedly derived from the guideline have in fact been inconsistent with, and often go beyond, its recommendations. A consensus panel has highlighted these inconsistencies, which include inflexible application of recommended dosage and duration thresholds and policies that encourage hard limits and abrupt tapering of drug dosages, resulting in sudden opioid discontinuation or dismissal of patients from a physician’s practice.”

So are there no actions we can take?

A recent decision by the New Hampshire Board of Medicine is one example of what happens when we do act. A patient reported his doctor to the board for refusing to continue prescribing opioids that had greatly helped his pain. As a result of the tapering, the patient’s pain became so unbearable he threatened suicide. At that point, the doctor refused to prescribe anymore opioids to the patient and dropped him. 

The board found that the doctor violated the ethical standards of professional conduct. He was fined, reprimanded, and ordered to take classes in pain management and record keeping.  

Another action is simply writing a letter, emailing or calling your federal and state representatives. Some of these people are working, intentionally or not, to hurt us.

The latest is a bill from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana. Neither have medical degrees, yet they have introduced a bill that instructs the FDA to tell doctors that opioids are "not intended for the treatment of chronic pain" except for cancer pain, end-of-life care or when no other pain treatment is effective.  

By telling our stories, by getting the authorities and legislators to understand what chronic pain is, and how it affects not only us but our families, community and the country, we can keep up the pressure. By submitting our complaints or filing lawsuits against individual doctors, we can be the voice of change. 

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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.

This column 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.

The Power of the Pen

By Michael Emelio, Guest Columnist

It's my hope that this column can serve as a powerful example of the harm that can be caused when people are denied adequate pain management. And in so, I pray that it also serves as a lesson to doctors and is something that our lawmakers, CDC and DEA will take a moment to seriously consider.

To understand the full magnitude of the damage that's been caused, I implore you to read a guest column I wrote last year, in which I described how the opioid medication I take for intractable back pain was rapidly tapered to a lower dose, leaving me bedridden and disabled.

It's high time that the harm being inflicted on me and other innocent victims of the opioid crisis is both acknowledged and stopped!

While I can totally sympathize with a doctor's fear of repercussions from the DEA, there comes a point where it's no longer a valid or acceptable excuse. One of those points is when a doctor, with no medically valid reason, refuses to sufficiently treat a person's pain and it results in harm to that patient.

And when a doctor refuses to prescribe a reasonable opioid dose (especially one that is within the CDC opioid guideline) and it causes a patient's condition to significantly worsen, how are they not responsible for that harm?

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Speaking with other patients, I've been hearing a familiar story quite a bit lately. So much in fact, that it appears to be becoming an epidemic. Doctors with no medically valid reason are either failing or refusing to prescribe even within the CDC’s 90 MME guideline, while using the same old "well the DEA threatens to take our licenses away" excuse. 

Not only is it getting old, but it's getting people hurt and worse. And when I say that excuse is killing me, I may just mean literally!

Since the tapering started, I've gained 55 pounds and my blood sugar and cholesterol have soared to alarming rates. So in addition to all the things I can no longer do and my pain and suffering increasing, I'm now at risk of both heart disease and diabetes. Irrefutably, this is a direct result of being bedridden 24 hours a day due to the med cuts.

But it doesn't stop there. Adding insult to injury, these med cuts are also robbing me of the only chance I have to improve my condition.

Surgery Not An Option

It cannot be emphasized enough that I've seen several highly-acclaimed surgeons, who are absolutely unanimous in what options I have. They've all said the same thing: Surgery is not an option for me and due to the nature of my condition I should avoid any invasive procedures as they can make my pain worse. This includes spinal injections, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps, to name a few.

They've all said that the only viable options I have left are pain meds and physical therapy. The latter is essential because “mobility is crucial to help reduce the pain and improve function.” And to slow my rate of deterioration, I should do “as much physical therapy as possible." 

So by denying me the ability to complete physical therapy due to his forced med cuts, my doctor is not only robbing me of my only chance for improvement, he is directly causing my condition to worsen at an accelerated rate. Despite explaining all of this to him, my doctor informs me that he still plans on reducing my meds even further!

On what planet does this make any sense whatsoever? When you consider all the aspects of my condition and the damage the previous met cuts have already caused, how can this be helpful in any way, yet be a necessary or even a reasonable course of action?

Especially when I'm only at 60 MME, which is considerably less than the CDC's 90 MME guideline. Furthermore, I've been a patient of his for over a year and a half and have proven to take my medications responsibly the entire time, as well as the previous 18 years I've been in pain management.

Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me.
— Micahel Emelio

Think about this for a minute. I have a medical need for pain meds because of an incurable condition that is causing such severe intractable pain that I'm bedridden to the point that I struggle to care for myself properly. It’s also a condition where surgery and invasive procedures are not an option, all other methods and medications have failed, and the only chance for improvement is through physical therapy. Then add the fact that my health is in a serious state of decline as a direct result of the med cuts, and he still wants to cut them even more?

Unless you're in this boat yourself, you can't fathom the level of stress this causes. I'm literally afraid I may have a heart attack from it.

You have to understand the impact that just one more med cut would have on me. I live alone, have no one to help me, and with the dose I'm currently at, I'm already struggling most days just to microwave a TV dinner, yet alone clean my house or even care for myself properly. If he cuts my meds any further, the effect it will have on my life will be devastating.

As I sat in my car outside his office, the only thing I could think about was that if he reduces my meds any further, not only will my pain be unbearable, but I won't even be able to care for myself anymore. Being alone and poor, I only see two options at that point: street drugs or suicide. 

Make no mistake. That is the hand that is being forced on people when intractable pain is not treated!

Never in a million years could I have imagined being in this position. But sadly, this is my reality. And the truly astonishing part of it all is that he could stop all this damage and immensely change my life for the better tomorrow, simply by prescribing 2 more tablets a day, which would still be within the CDC guideline.

But no! Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me. It's both staggering and terrifying knowing how much control he has over my life with just the swipe of his pen.

Which brings me to an interesting point. In medical school they teach about a thing they call the "power of the pen." It means to make sure that what they prescribe doesn't cause harm to the patient. I just wish my doctor realized that the power of the pen works both ways!

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Michael Emelio lives in Florida. Michael lives with severe degenerative disc disease, scoliosis and fibromyalgia. He has safely used opioid medication since 2001.

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.

The Visible Few Pain Patients

By Dr. Lynn Webster, PNN Columnist

I receive several emails a week from people who ask for help because their treatment options have been limited or eliminated. They are in terrible pain, and they don’t know what to do.

One such person, Sharon Berenfeld, MD, recently shared an experience she had visiting her doctor.

“Dr. Webster, I came across a publication of yours. It struck a nerve with me. My pain is intractable. I have tried everything,” she wrote. “Before the exam room door even closed, [my doctor] announced to me, ‘If you think I’m just here to refill your pills, you can leave now.'

"I left in tears. I was being judged and punished for having a complication from cancer treatment. I completely understand the opioid crisis. But I feel impotent to do anything."

Who Are the Visible Few?

Earlier this year, Fox News' three-part series, Treating America's Pain: Unintended Victims of the Opioid Crackdown, showed the terrifying circumstances of people in pain and doctors under siege. One individual’s decision to commit suicide as a result of the crackdown on opioid prescribing embodies the struggles of people in pain and their providers' inability to meet their needs.

The visible few are the small number of people whose stories have been heard by journalists, media consumers and government officials. Their stories reflect millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain who live in the shadows and are invisible to most of us. 

The needs of people in pain and the challenges providers face when treating them have been overshadowed by the government's attempts to deal with the opioid crisis. The well-intentioned CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain has affected 20 million Americans with severe disabling pain.

It also is having consequences for everyone else in the healthcare system. Prescription opioids have been demonized and blamed for our current drug crisis.

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Unintended Consequences

The CDC guideline was supposed to be voluntary. However, in practice, the guideline has been treated as a policy with the strength of a law, and it has had severe unintended consequences. Many people are worse off in its wake. Here is a summary of the most substantial effects of the guideline.

  • Providers feel pressured to reduce the amount of opioids that they prescribe, regardless of their patients' individual needs. About 70% of physicians have reduced their opioid prescribing or stopped it completely.

  • Insurance companies set prescription limits based on the guideline. In some cases, they override physicians' recommendations. That means insurers, rather than doctors, are making decisions about how to treat pain.

  • Pharmacy chains are also limiting the amount of opioids they dispense, based on the guideline rather than on doctors' prescriptions..

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have set dosage limits. Providers advocating for patients who need higher amounts must navigate a complicated appeals process.

  • State attorneys general have used the guideline to evaluate whether a doctor is prescribing for a legitimate medical purpose. Deviation from the guideline has been used to accuse doctors of criminal conduct.

  • In a desperate search for pain relief, some patients have turned to street drugs.

Where We Are Now

The CDC guideline has left a trail of misunderstanding in its path. Its authors acknowledged misapplication of the guideline in the New England Journal of Medicine, emphasizing that their intention was to provide guidance rather than to establish a mandate.

"Difficulties faced by clinicians in prescribing opioids safely and effectively, growing awareness of opioid-associated risks, and a public health imperative to address opioid overdose underscored the need for the guidance,” they wrote.

In a separate article in the JAMA Network, the guideline's authors said, “The number of people experiencing chronic pain is substantial, with U.S. prevalence estimated at 11.2% of the adult population. Patients should receive appropriate pain treatment based on careful considerations of the benefits and risks of treatment options.”

There are other signs of recognition that the guideline has been misinterpreted. For example, CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, wrote in a letter to Health Professionals for Patients in Pain (HP3), “The CDC is working diligently to evaluate the impact of the guideline and clarify its recommendations to reduce unintended harm.”

The American Medical Association's House of Delegates passed a series of resolutions on the guideline at an interim meeting in November 2018.

“Physicians should not be subject to professional discipline, loss of board certification, loss of clinical privileges, criminal prosecution, civil liability, or other penalties or practice limitations solely for prescribing opioids at a quantitative level above the morphine milligram level thresholds found in the CDC guidelines for prescribing opioids,” the AMA delegates said.

There is also some light being shined on the issue in a report by The Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when treating and managing patients with painful conditions. Individuals who live with pain are suffering and need compassionate, individualized and effective approaches to improving pain and clinical outcomes. This is a roadmap that is desperately needed to treat our nation’s pain crisis,” said Vanila Singh, MD, task force chair and chief medical officer of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.

As the opioid odyssey continues, there are signs that the visible few are beginning to be heard. This is an important step to helping the invisible millions with chronic pain receive the care they deserve.

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Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth,” and co-producer of the documentary,It Hurts Until You Die.” You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.

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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DAVID EATON

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.

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.