Limiting Opioids for Acute Pain Will Hurt Everyone

By Patricia Young, Guest Columnist

There is a bill in Congress that, if passed, will have a great negative impact on most people in this country. The legislation by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) would limit your doctor’s ability to treat short term acute pain by restricting the supply of opioids to 7 days. This would be a prescription that could not be renewed.

Several states have passed or are considering similar measures to limit the initial supply of opioid medication to a week or less.

I am not sure how these senators came up with the magic number of 7 days for all types of acute pain, but this will cause much undue suffering for innocent people.

As a registered nurse who worked in hospitals and nursing homes for 32 years, I have firsthand knowledge of what happens when acute pain goes untreated. Patients who suffer from acute pain often cannot sleep and become agitated at a time when rest is imperative for healing.

There are many painful and complicated surgeries that make a blanket 7 day restriction on opioid medication absurd. Post-surgical patients often do not stay in the hospital long and the continuation of pain medicine is vital to their healing process. Gastrointestinal surgery often results in an open wound requiring constant dressing changes for weeks.

Most people will eventually be adversely affected if such a bill if passed. Pain is real and comes with most surgeries and many medical conditions.

I recently had arthroscopic hip surgery. I had not been prescribed pain medicine for over a year. At one time I was taking opiates daily, but taking them in that fashion never worked for my chronic pain issues and caused adverse reactions, such as gastroparesis and severe sleep apnea. However, I knew that I would not do well after hip surgery without some pain relief.

I told my surgeon about the adverse reactions and he gave me a prescription for Percocet to use for the first 2 weeks following surgery. I felt good that this doctor had my history and I trusted him to regulate my pain medicine.

I had my surgery done as an outpatient and returned home the same day. My husband took the prescriptions signed by my surgeon to the pharmacy and returned with all of the medications, except for the Percocet. By this time I really needed some pain relief and called the pharmacy to see what happened. I was told that they were not going to fill the prescription for Percocet. They told me my Medicare Advantage Plan (Aetna) was rejecting payment for it.

This was the type of news you just do not need after a painful surgery! I immediately went from feelings of anger to hopelessness. In a couple of weeks I was going to begin 3 months of grueling physical therapy so I could walk again. I also wondered what people did for pain after more complicated surgeries which take longer to recover from. What is happening? Is the government regulating our healthcare so that an insurance company or Medicare can deny coverage for a surgeon’s prescription for post-op pain?

I explained to my pharmacy that my prescription for Percocet was for acute pain following a surgery. The pharmacy decided to look into it. I was fortunate, I was allowed this one prescription filled, but no more. The pharmacy said they would not fill another prescription for a painkiller even if prescribed by my surgeon.

I was only partially relieved now. I knew I had a painful road ahead with 3 months of physical therapy. I looked at the bottle of pain pills and thought this must last throughout my 6 month estimated recovery time. I made the decision to not take a pain pill that day. Yes, I was having a great deal of pain, but I felt I had to take them sparingly. I lost several nights of sleep due to pain because I was afraid to use my pain medicine.

By the 6th day post-op, I had only taken 3 Percocet pills and my pain level was an 8 while lying still. I called my insurance company to verify that I would get no more prescription coverage for pain medicine as the pharmacy had said. I was told different information. My insurance would allow coverage for another prescription, if my surgeon writes one, as long it was not over 180 pills for a month.

My fears about pain during physical therapy were eased and I was relieved that I could start taking my pain pills as prescribed. But why would a pharmacy tell me the wrong information?

This may be why people have to go to several pharmacies to get pain prescriptions filled. It is not because they are addicts or misusing their medication, but because pharmacies are too afraid to fill legitimate prescriptions.

Do cookie cutter rules and policies for pain treatment really promote healthcare for everyone? Or are they simplistic solutions to try and put a band aid on a problem that is completely different -- the disease of addiction?

Patricia Young lives in Florida. In a previous guest column, Patricia shared her experience about being falsely accused of having a “history of addiction.”

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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.