A Pained Life: Change in Pain Care Policy Overdue

By Carol Levy, Columnist

In 2003, the National Pain Care Policy Act was first introduced in the U.S. Congress, calling for “adequate pain care research, education, and treatment as national public health priorities.”

At the time, information about chronic pain and the effect it has on lost productivity and economy was important enough that Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) wanted to try and do something about it.

While the House approved his bill, the Senate refused to take any action. Three more times it was introduced. Each time the House passed it and the Senate wouldn’t even consider it.

In the last few years there has been the gigantic hue and cry about the “opioid epidemic.” More often than not, the chronic pain community is named as culprit number one.

Just imagine if the Senate had listened in 2003 when Rogers first introduced his legislation.

Nearly 13 years have passed. How many new drugs? How many new treatments and procedures might have been developed by now? Would opioids still be one of the first weapons doctors arm their patients with? Would they still be telling patients, “You just need to learn to live with it.”

I often hear this from many in the pain community: “My doctor will not continue giving me the narcotic he has had me on for years. He no longer commiserates with me and says he will do all he can to help. Now he says ‘Sorry, I have decided to no longer write those prescriptions.’”

The patient looks at him, beseechingly. “What am I supposed to do? Do you have anything else to give me, to do for me? Please.”

He shakes his head, maybe ruefully, maybe not. “Sorry. Nothing else I can do for you.”

Many of us know the next step personally. We call other physicians’ offices. “Are you accepting new patients?” Too often the answer is no.

If they say yes and you add, “I am looking for a doctor to prescribe medication for my chronic pain,” the door is slammed shut in our ear. “We do not take patients who want narcotics.”

Now we are seen as a drug seeker. All because we want to stop or at the least reduce the pain.

If we were diabetic and said, “I am looking for a doctor to prescribe my insulin,” the reception would most probably be quite different. At worst they’d say, “The doctor will decide if that's right for you or if a different form of treatment is better.”

Patients should not have to search high and low for a doctor to treat them. And a patient saying upfront what they feel they need is not a sign they are fakers, drug seekers or malingerers.

I get it. When a patient says they want oxycodone, hydrocodone or Vicodin, I can understand it being heard as “I want opiates.” Instead of a discussion about working together to figure out what to do, it is easier to dismiss the patient.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, it included amendments that were part of the National Pain Care Policy Act of 2003.

President Obama recently said, “If we go to doctors right now and say 'Don't overprescribe' without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we're not going to solve the problem.”

It is wonderful that he recognizes this. But it is way past time to see action on the ACA's call to arms against chronic pain.

As it now stands, many in Congress want to become the third person in the consulting room, trying to proscribe what doctors prescribe if it is in the form of an opioid.

Research and development of new treatments -- including non-opioid drugs -- is what we have needed and continue to need. Opioids should be the last “go to” measure, not the first or only one.

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.