Why Pain Patients Should Worry About Chris Christie

(Editor’s Note: Last month President Donald Trump named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as chair of a new commission that will study and draft a national strategy to combat opioid addiction..

Gov. Christie has been a prominent supporter of addiction treatment and anti-abuse efforts.

He also recently signed legislation to limit initial opioid prescriptions in New Jersey to five days, a law that takes effect next month.)

white house photo

white house photo

By Alessio Ventura, Guest Columnist

Unfortunately, Chris Christie's crackdown on opioids will have extremely negative consequences for people with acute and chronic pain in New Jersey. It is equivalent to gun control, where because of crime and mass shootings, innocent gun owners are punished.

The fact is that only a small percentage of opioid deaths are from legitimate prescriptions. Most overdose deaths are from illegal drugs or the non-medical use of opioids.

The government crackdown on opioids has created a literal hell on earth for people with severe pain, who often can no longer find the medication they need. This has become a major issue, even though there are other drugs that are just as dangerous when misused:

Deaths from alcohol, antidepressants and NSAIDs far exceed deaths from opioids, yet it is opioid medication that gets all of the attention.

So when we see Chris Christie leading a new opioid commission, we chronic pain patients know full well that this just means more restrictions for us. Addicts and criminals will continue to support their habit through the illegal market, and pain patients will continue to live a life of hell that will only get worse. Most of us don’t go to the black market to buy pain medication. We drive around in excruciating pain looking for a pharmacy that can fill our prescriptions.

We also cringe in fear every time we see the "opioid epidemic" headlines and the new initiatives to combat overdoses, because we know that we will pay the price, not the addict or criminal.  It’s like when a nut case opens fire and kills people. Gun owners know that new restrictions will impact them, not the criminals.

New Jersey’s 5-Day Limit on Opioids

Gov. Christie recently pushed for and convinced the New Jersey legislature to pass very restrictive pain medicine laws. Physicians in New Jersey were very much opposed to Christie's model, but it was forced upon them anyway. Since I am originally from New Jersey and most of my family still lives there, I know firsthand the devastating consequences these restrictions could have on family members.

I have had 18 invasive surgeries since 2008 and recently suffered from a sepsis infection after shoulder replacement surgery. The infection required 3 additional surgeries, two of which were emergency surgeries as the infection spread. I was fed broad spectrum antibiotics intravenously 3 times per day.

I also suffer from chronic pain from arthritis. I have tried every other pain treatment modality, and opioid-based pain medicine is the only one that works for me.

There is no way I would have been able to get up after a 5 days to visit my doctor just to refill pain medicine. But if New Jersey’s law were instituted in Florida, where I now live, it would require me to do just that. After the surgery, I was dealing with horrible pain in my shoulder, along with severe fatigue and other complications. Thank God that Florida law still allows for prescriptions of pain medicine beyond 5 days.

Chris Christie is now leading a study for President Trump, and my fear is that a new executive order will be forthcoming which will force the New Jersey model of restricting pain medicine across every state, including Florida.

Let me relay to you a recent experience of my 85 year old mother, who had invasive back surgery in New Jersey. They sent her home after 2 days in the hospital with a prescription for a 5 day supply of Percocet, and strict orders to "NOT MOVE FROM BED.”

There is already a shortage of pain medicine in New Jersey pharmacies. My sister took the script, started at a pharmacy in Bridgewater, and worked her way on Route 22 toward Newark. She visited 30 pharmacies along the way and was unable to find the medicine. She called me in tears because my mother was in terrible pain.

My sister even took my mother to the ER, but they would not give her any medicine for pain.

Thankfully, after asking several friends for help, my sister received a call from her best friend, who found a pharmacy that had Percocet. My mother received significant relief from the pain medicine, but 5 days was not nearly enough. My sister lives with my mother and was able to take her on the 4th day to see the doctor about a refill, but she never should have gotten out of bed. She was under strict orders to stay in bed, use a bed pan and not to get up until two weeks after the surgery.

Yet now on the 4th day she had no choice because of her pain. The patient has to be present to receive a new script for opioids in New Jersey, so my sister could not visit the doctor's office to pick up a script for her without my mother's presence.

This is an unbelievable intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship. Why is it that politicians are so hell bent on government intrusion when it comes to legitimate use of medicines? This is insanity.

It is time for a full court press in Washington DC. If you have acute, chronic or intractable pain, then you better wake up and do something to preserve your rights. Chronic pain is a disease, and for people who have tried all modalities and found that opioids are the only solution, you are about to lose access to the medicine that gives you some semblance of a normal life. I anticipate that an executive order mirroring the misguided New Jersey restrictions will be issued by President Trump, in essence trampling on your ability to obtain pain relief.

I am imploring you to make our voices heard. We should not be further punished because of people with addiction illness. Of course they need to be helped, but restricting access for law abiding, non-addicted patients is an outrage. It is already difficult enough to get pain medicine in Florida, often requiring visits to 20 or more pharmacies before one finds a pharmacist willing to fill a script.

I have often thought about suicide because of my pain. Many others have as well. If additional restrictions are forthcoming from Washington, then many of us will face life or death decisions. Please do not allow Chris Christie to tip the balance.

Alessio Ventura lives with chronic arthritis and post-surgical pain. He shared his experiences as a pain patient in a previous guest column. Alessio was born in Italy, came to the U.S. at age 17, and finished high school in New Jersey. He worked for Bell Laboratories for 35 years as a network and software engineer. 

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.

West Virginia Admits Pain Patients Suffering

By Pat Anson, Editor

As Ohio, New Jersey and other states move to put further limits on opioid prescribing, West Virginia is acknowledging that its own efforts may have gone too far.

This week the West Virginia House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill that would create a commission to review state regulations on opioid pain medication and report back to the legislature on ways to make them “less cumbersome.”

Senate Bill 339 calls the abuse of pain medication in West Virginia “a nearly insurmountable plague,” but recognizes that efforts aimed at curbing abuse and overprescribing have “resulted in unforeseen outcomes often causing patients seeking pain treatment to suffer from a lack of treatment options.”

“Effective early care is paramount in managing chronic pain. To that end, prescribers should have the flexibility to effectively treat patients who present with chronic pain. However, there must be a balance between proper treatment for chronic pain and the abuse of the opioids found most effective in its treatment,” the bill states.

The legislation calls for the Dean of the School of Public Health at West Virginia University to serve as chair of the commission, which is to be known as the Coalition for Responsible Chronic Pain Management. Other members of the panel will include a board certified pain specialist, three physicians, a pharmacist, a chiropractor and a pain patient. 

The coalition will meet quarterly to review regulations on physicians and pain clinics, and will advise the legislature on ways to “further enhance the provider patient relationship in the effective treatment and management of chronic pain.”

Because the bill was amended in the House, it now returns to the West Virginia Senate for approval.

In many ways, West Virginia was ground zero for the nation’s overdose epidemic, and was one of the first states to crackdown on pill mills and the overprescribing of pain medication. Fewer opioids are now being prescribed, but West Virginia still leads the nation with the highest overdose death rate in the country.

At least 844 people died of drug overdoses in the state in 2016, a record number, compared to 731 in 2015. As in other parts of the country, addicts in West Virginia have increasingly turned to heroin and illicit fentanyl, which are more potent, dangerous and easier to obtain than prescription painkillers. Over a third of the overdose deaths in West Virginia last year were linked to fentanyl. Most of the deaths involved multiple drugs.   

Ohio Tightens Opioid Regulations

In neighboring Ohio, Gov. John Kasich last week announced new plans to limit opioid prescriptions to just seven days of supply for adults and five days for minors. Doses are also being limited to no more than 30 mg of a morphine equivalent dose (MED) per day.

The new regulations, which are expected to take effect this summer, are more than just guidelines – they are a legal requirement for prescribers. Although only intended for acute pain patients, many chronic pain patients are worried they will lose access to opioid medication.

"Doctors are already feeling this pressure not to prescribe pain medications," Amy Monahan-Curtis told NBC News. "What I am hearing is people are already being turned away. They are not getting medications. They are not even being seen. "

Ohio has been down this path before. In 2012, it began a series of actions to restrict access to pain medication. By 2016, the number of opioid prescriptions in Ohio had fallen 20 percent, or 162 million doses.

As in West Virginia, however, the number of drug overdoses continues to soar. Ohio led the nation with over 3,000 drug overdoses in 2015, with many of those deaths linked to illicit fentanyl and heroin. The situation is so bad that some county coroners are storing bodies in temporary cold storage facilities because they’ve run out of room at the morgue.

Next month new regulations will go into effect in New Jersey that will limit initial opioid prescriptions to just five days of supply. Only after four days have passed can a patient get an additional 25 day supply.

That law is primarily intended for acute pain patients, but many chronic pain patients are worried they’ll be forced to make weekly trips to the doctor and pharmacy for their prescriptions, or not be able to get them at all.

“You can imagine my alarm and fear when I was told yesterday that I will likely have to have the dosage of my medications reduced soon,” said Robert Clayton, a New Jersey man who suffers from chronic back and neck pain.

“This is LUNACY. As a nurse who treats individuals with chronic pain and addiction issues, I can tell you these new laws are going to have catastrophic results. Most of the people abusing opiates and dying are the addicts who abuse heroin and other prescription drugs like benzodiazepines, not the chronic pain patients like myself and the other unfortunate souls who have a genuine need for these drugs through no fault of our own.”

According to a recent survey of over 3,100 pain patients by PNN and the International Pain Foundation, one in five pain patients are hoarding opioid medications because they fear losing access to them.

It's Time for Chronic Pain Patients to Act

By Alessio Ventura, Guest Columnist

I am a chronic pain sufferer who recently had multiple emergency surgeries due to sepsis infection after a shoulder replacement.

I have had 17 surgeries since 2008, including major back surgery, rotator cuff repair, biceps tendonitis, knee surgery and hernia surgery. Bottom line: my body is now wracked with arthritis and post-surgical pain.

I have tried several pain treatment modalities over the years, including Lyrica, Cymbalta, chiropractic, injections, NSAIDs, and acupuncture. The only effective treatment in my case has been the legitimate, professional application of opioid medicine by pain management physicians.

I have severe allergic reactions to NSAIDs, which kill 15,000 per year and send 100,000 to the hospital.  A friend of mine died from a stroke because of NSAIDs.

After my recent surgeries related to the shoulder replacement and subsequent infection, my wife had to travel to 25 different pharmacies before she finally found someone willing to fill my scripts for Oxycontin and Percocet.

This is not unusual though. Each month is a long trek to find pain medicine. What has happened due to government restrictions on opioids is a reduction in the supply of opioid medicine. The drug companies see the writing on the wall and are slowly trying to get out of the business.

ALESSIO VENTURA

ALESSIO VENTURA

At the same time, the government sets limits on how much a pharmacy can stock. That is according to pharmacists I have spoken to, but is denied by the DEA and FDA in response to letters I have written.

It truly is a nightmare. Each month, you have to go to pharmacy after pharmacy before you find a pharmacist willing to dispense the medicine, which pharmacists are under no legal obligation to provide. Many pain patients go into withdrawal each month as they search, while at the same time enduring intractable pain.

Most of us have tried every single alternative to opioids, but the anti-opioid hysteria paints a picture that there are better and safer therapies. That simply is not true. The only thing that works for many of us is an opioid-based medicine.

The madness is spreading. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has signed into law a bill that limits the first script for opioids to 5 days. After the four surgeries I’ve had since August, I was bedridden and could not visit a doctor after 5 days. They could not identify the infectious agent as they were unable to grow it in cultures. Eventually I was treated with 3 broad spectrum antibiotics, which in addition to killing the infection, also killed the "good" bacteria in my system, which caused severe fatigue and gastrointestinal side effects.

Many acute traumas, like when someone is shot or in a horrible car accident, will not provide for easy travel to visit a doctor to refill an opioid after 5 days, and it is currently illegal for a doctor to call in a script for controlled substances. This caused a run on opioid medicine in New Jersey as hospitals and surgery centers accumulated as much as they could, and with the cutback by drug companies, many people could not get their scripts filled.

My 85 year old mother in New Jersey had back surgery recently. My sister drove to 30 pharmacies -- starting in Bridgewater and working her way along Route 22 toward Newark -- and she was unable to get our mother’s scripts filled. My mother was in horrible pain and my sister had to rush her back to the ER. It was horrible. My sister broke down in tears at the ER as she explained her plight and the suffering of my mother.

There is a reason why army medics carry morphine to the battlefield. It is the only thing that has a chance to address severe acute pain.

In addition to supply limits, there is the prescription drug monitoring system. The government now tracks every single opioid that you legally acquire. If for whatever reason you find yourself away from home and cannot see your physician and you attempt to refill or get new pain medicine because of an injury, surgery or chronic pain, you will not be able to do it legally without first getting in touch with your doctor so they can coordinate care. Often this is not possible.

If you do get pain medicine while away without coordinating, you will be investigated and may be subject to arrest. Your doctor may also drop you from their practice. Your rights as a patient, especially your privacy rights and your right to seek pain relief, are now severely trampled.

Politicians are playing with fire as the opioid hysteria grows. More people will commit suicide rather than live with intractable pain, because politicians think they know more than doctors treating patients.

Who is going to listen to us? Politicians and some in the medical community conveniently conflate overdose data from the illegal use of opioids with legitimate use for intractable pain. They are also dismissive and try to tell us that we should try alternatives. For example, Lyrica is now being pushed by many, but it was developed only for a specific class of nerve pain, and possible side effects include suicide, weight gain, and a host of other things.

I almost committed suicide myself after being prescribed Lyrica and Cymbalta. I went from 190 pounds to 300 pounds, and had suicidal thoughts almost from the outset. When I told my doctors, they said, "Give it more time, the side effects will subside".

After the Lyrica and Cymbalta were stopped, I stayed on OxyContin and had bi-weekly testosterone shots. I lost all of the weight and the suicidal thoughts went away. It was a miracle.

There is a literal civil war occurring now between physicians who understand pain, and others who refuse to admit the truth about the efficacy of legitimate pain management via the use of opioids. Unless we all collectively speak up and scream loudly, meaning writing formal, respectful, but firm and forceful letters to our representatives, they will continue to step on us and cause our lives to be living hell.

It is time. Find out who your state and federal representatives are. Find out who your local, state, and federal health organization leaders are. Write formal letters, not emails or phone calls, to your representatives. After you write your letters, request meetings with your representatives and go to that meeting. Do whatever you can in a professional, respectful, but aggressive way in order to bring attention to our plight.

The time is now. Failure to act most assuredly means an end to our rights, a lifetime of pain, more illegal use of drugs, and in many cases, death.

Alessio Ventura was born in Italy, came to the U.S. at 17, and finished high school in Newark, New Jersey. He worked for Bell Laboratories for 35 years as a network and software engineer. Alessio has been married for 35 years and has 4 adult children, including triplets.

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.