Chronic Fatigue Patients Often Feel Disbelieved in ERs

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) often feel disrespected and disbelieved in hospital emergency rooms, according to a new survey by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center.

CFS is a complex and poorly understood disorder characterized by extreme fatigue, chronic pain, impaired memory and insomnia. Because many of the symptoms of CFS overlap with other conditions -- including fibromyalgia, depression, and inflammation – a correct diagnosis is often difficult.

In the first study of its kind, Georgetown researchers surveyed 282 CFS patients about their experiences in emergency departments. Two-thirds said they would not go to an ED because they believed they wouldn't be taken seriously or because they had a previous unsatisfactory experience. Only a third said they received appropriate treatment in the ED.


"The high proportion of patients who were basically told 'It is all in your head' by ED staff indicates that there is much misunderstanding and misgivings about the diagnosis of CFS,” said allergist and immunologist James Baraniuk, MD, senior investigator of the study published in the journal Open Access Emergency Medicine.

“These patients should feel they are respected and that they can receive thorough care when they feel sick enough to go to an ED."

The survey found that only 59 percent of the CFS patients had gone to an ED. In that group, 42 percent were dismissed as having psychosomatic complaints. Asked to collectively rate their ED caregivers' knowledge of chronic fatigue, patients gave them a score of 3.6 on a 10-point scale.

Baraniuk says more training is needed for ED staff and physicians to better understand the disorder.

"An already-available CFS Symptom Severity Questionnaire can be used in the ED to assist with the diagnosis of CFS, and to differentiate exacerbations of CFS symptoms from medical emergencies such as heart attacks or infections," Baraniuk says.

The number one reason for going to the ED was orthostatic intolerance, which occurs when a person feels faint when standing or sitting upright because not enough blood is reaching the brain and heart. The symptoms only improve when a person lies down.

"This condition is something that can be readily addressed by ED caregivers. There is a real need for physician education that will improve their efficiency in identifying and treating CFS and in distinguishing CFS symptoms from other diseases in the exam room," he said.

In 2015, an independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health called for major changes in the way the healthcare system treats people suffering from chronic fatigue – which is also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).

“Both society and the medical profession have contributed to ME/CFS patients feeling disrespected and rejected. They are often treated with skepticism, uncertainty, and apprehension and labeled as deconditioned or having a primary psychological disorder,” the panel reported in its final report.

About one million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue, most of them women. There are no pathogens linked to CFS, no diagnostic tests and no known cures.

CDC: Emergency Room Overdoses Up Sharply

By Pat Anson, Editor

Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses have soared by 30 percent in 16 states, according to a new Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC called the report a “wake-up call to the fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic.”

Between July 2016 and September 2017, there were over 142,000 suspected opioid overdoses treated in hospital emergency rooms in the 16 states. Overdoses increased for men and women in all age groups, in all regions of the country, and in rural and urban areas.

The new report does not specify how many patients died or if the overdoses involved prescription opioids or illegal opioids like heroin and illicit fentanyl. A previous report by the CDC indicated that over half the nation’s fatal overdoses are now linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid increasingly available on the black market.

“Long before we receive data from death certificates, emergency department data can point to alarming increases in opioid overdoses,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, MD. “This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States.”

Ten of the 16 states studied had significant increases in emergency room overdoses, with the number of overdoses in Wisconsin up by an alarming 109 percent.  Opioid overdoses in Delaware also doubled.


Midwestern states saw the biggest increase overall, with a 70% increase in overdoses, followed by the West (40%), Northeast (21%), Southwest (20%) and Southeast states (14%).

Overdoses declined by 15% in Kentucky, and by smaller amounts in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Schuchat said the decline could be related to the increased availability of drugs like naloxone, which can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Failure of Opioid Guidelines Ignored  

The Vital Signs report did not examine the apparent failure of the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines to have any impact on the overdose rate. The agency's controversial guidelines were not even discussed during a 30-minute briefing Schuchat had with reporters today.

Since the CDC guidelines were released in March 2016, many pain patients say their opioid doses have been reduced or eliminated, and the quality of their pain care has deteriorated. Some patients abandoned by doctors are having trouble finding new ones willing to treat them.

A recent report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that prescription opioids were involved in only about 15% of the fatal overdoses in 2017, while fentanyl was involved in 83 percent of the opioid deaths in that state.

ER Safety Tips for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Patients

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

People living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) are often afraid to go to a hospital emergency room, due to a lack of understanding in the ER staff on how to safely care for them. I myself recently had another negative experience, one that almost killed me.

In the process of being admitted, after passing out over and over due to low blood pressure, things went terribly wrong. While being transferred from the ambulance to the hospital stretcher, my hip was dislocated. This dislocation was unintentional, but avoidable, as it was a direct result of the rough manner in which the transfer was managed.

On top of this, they gave me no IV fluids for several hours, which should have been the first thing done to help elevate my blood pressure. Complicating matters even further, no food was brought to my room that I could safely eat and metabolize for the two days I was there.

And then, when a nurse thought I had stopped breathing, she compressed my chest to stimulate my heart, even though I was wearing two medical bracelets warning I shouldn’t be given chest compressions. Three months later, I am still paying for these mistakes.


As a result of my traumatizing and life threatening experience, I sent a letter to the hospital in the hopes of never having another EDS patient experience what I did. I was shocked to receive a call that resulted in the hospital taking me up on my offer to meet with their doctors and nurses to help them understand how to properly handle us.

To prepare for this meeting, I asked other EDS patients to submit suggestions to enhance my program. I hope that this list will be helpful to both patients and hospital staff.

How to Treat Ehlers-Danlos Patients

  • Consider having a generic EDS protocol for staff to get a quick understanding of this condition with new patients.
  • Put notes or a bulletin board or patient chart to share information and keep the patient safe from shift to shift.
  • Be cautious, for EDS is an “invisible condition” so remember to do no harm. Understand that touching and moving us can create more problems, so listen to the patient. Tread lightly using chest compressions, because our ribs sublux, dislocate and break easily. Allow EDS patients to position themselves safely before any procedure.
  • Subluxations are a real thing. Don't just take a quick x-ray and tell us, "It's nothing, you're fine.” When a joint feels wrong, there's an injury worth finding some relief for.
  • Because we bruise easily, don’t rush to judgement with EDS children before reporting abuse.
  • If someone arrives with an ID warning bracelet, please read and respect what is says!
  • If a patient has low blood pressure, elevate their bed to a 30% angle. Hook up IV fluids quickly and approve the patient’s BP medication in time for their next dose. Consider using a PICC line if the IV does not hold.
  • Many EDS patients are drug reactive, so respect if a DNA drug test has been done or listen to what medications have not worked in past. Pain relief is difficult to achieve with EDS so please believe the person.
  • Some of us use compounded medications that need to be accepted in place of what you have in stock in the pharmacy. Some also use supplements, so please respect the use of them. Many are using the Cusack Protocol supplement routine.
  • If a patient is using cannabis for pain control, consider allowing CBD use in the hospital in an oil, tincture, topical or pill form.
  • Many of us are food reactive, so send your dietician to the room to meet the patient and create a safe meal plan.
  • If a patient sleeps with CPAP or BPAP mask, be sure that it gets brought in and worn during sleep.
  • Have on staff a physical therapist that can use manual energy techniques for re-alignment or allow an EDS manual therapist on the floor.
  • If there is a need to draw blood, use a butterfly or small pediatric needle.
  • If there is a need for intubation, be careful with movement of the neck and use small equipment. If an EDS patient presents with a neck fusion, do intubation using the fiber optic glidescope.
  • If stitches are needed, try to using natural products over synthetic.
  • Many of us have wound healing issues, so please be careful with the choice of tape and its removal. Some of us have skin that is fragile and easily tears.
  • All types of EDS are at increased risk for scary vascular events. Any sudden or severe chest or abdominal pain needs a scan to rule out an aneurysm or another serious condition.

If surgery is needed, be sure to have your anesthesiologist do a pre-op interview before any procedures. Be careful about joint positioning and manipulation when performing anesthesia. Yes, that "jaw thrust maneuver" may make intubation easier or more comfortable, but it's not worth the months of rehab from a dislocated jaw.

Please reassure your orthopedic residents that we'd prefer to avoid surgery, too. Having them share their fears out loud that they don't want to operate on EDS patients because “that'll just make things worse" may be true, but it's not helpful. Nobody wants to feel like an untouchable leper. Instead, please focus on what you can do to help. It might be as simple as helping to reposition the joint to a more neutral spot, and then bracing or splinting it there to give things a rest before starting physical therapy

Ehlers-Danlos can be a very painful, isolating and heartbreaking condition to live with. We would love to come to a hospital for emergency help and not be afraid to be sent home in worse shape. Let’s all work to educate the medical field and improve the future for us all coping with this condition. May this list be a start for you!

Ellen and Stuart.JPG

Ellen Lenox Smith suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and sarcoidosis. Ellen and her husband Stuart are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition.

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

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.

Heroin Overdoses in ER's Surpass Rx Opioid Overdoses

By Pat Anson, Editor

The number of patients admitted and discharged from U.S. hospitals for abuse of opioid pain medication has declined significantly this decade, while the abuse of heroin and illicit fentanyl has surged, according to a new study that documents the shifting nature of the nation’s overdose crisis.

Researchers at Stanford University analyzed national trends in hospital inpatient and emergency department (ED) discharges for opioid abuse, dependence and poisoning from 1997 to 2014, the last year data was available.

They found that hospital admissions for overdoses from pain medication started falling in 2010, the same year that opioid prescriptions began declining.

At the same time, hospital discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased at an annual rate of over 31 percent. By 2014, heroin overdoses exceeded those from prescription opioids in emergency rooms by almost a 2 to 1 margin.

“After 2008, ED discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased more sharply than the rates for any opioid poisoning -- signaling that the scope of heroin harm is worse than previously suggested -- while discharges for prescription opioid poisoning recently began to decline in both the ED and inpatient settings,” researchers reported in the journal Health Affairs.


“While these changes could be the result of national and local policies aimed at reducing the prescribing of opioids, the expanded availability of heroin and new lethal illicit drugs, such as nonpharmaceutical fentanyl, could mean that they are being used instead of prescription opioids.”

The findings add evidence to recent public health concerns that people misusing or addicted to prescription opioids are switching to heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl because they are cheaper and easier to get.

"This suggests that the expanded availability of lethal illicit drugs are being used to replace prescription opioids in some cases," said Tina Hernandez-Boussard, PhD, associate professor of medicine, of biomedical data sciences and of surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine.

source: health affairs

source: health affairs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been reluctant to admit that efforts to reduce opioid prescribing could be backfiring, although their own statistics indicate otherwise.  Deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids overtook overdoses linked to prescription opioids in 2016, the same year the CDC released its opioid prescribing guidelines.

As PNN has reported,  the CDC last week launched a public awareness campaign to combat the abuse of prescription opioids, a marketing effort driven by surveys and focus groups that completely ignores the scourge of heroin and illicit fentanyl.

“The campaign does not include messages about heroin. Specificity is a best practice in communication, and the Rx Awareness campaign messaging focuses on the critical issue of prescription opioids. Given the broad target audience, focusing on prescription opioids avoids diluting the campaign messaging. Heroin is a related topic that also needs formative research and message testing,” the CDC explained.

The Stanford study found that discharge rates for prescription opioid poisonings declined annually by about 5 percent from 2010 to 2014, while discharge rates for heroin poisoning increased at an annual rate of 31.4 percent from 2008 to 2014. The trend has likely worsened since 2014, as heroin and illicit fentanyl are even more widely available on the black market.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that prescribing clinicians are positively reacting to the opioid crisis and therefore prescription opioids are contributing less to the overall drug epidemic," Hernandez-Boussard said. "That's the good news. The bad news is that although prescription opioid use decreased, heroin and methadone greatly increased.”

Anna Lembke, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford and a board member of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), says she has no doubt many people addicted to prescription opioids have switched to using heroin or illicit fentanyl.

"My patients have told me that's exactly what they did," said Lembke. "Heroin was cheaper and easier to get."

ER Patients Less Likely to Use Opioids Long Term

By Pat Anson, Editor

Patients who are prescribed opioid pain medication for the first time in hospital emergency rooms are less likely to become long term opioid users than patients in other settings, according to a large new study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

"Our paper lays to rest the notion that emergency physicians are handing out opioids like candy," said lead author Molly Moore Jeffery, PhD, scientific director of the Mayo Clinic Division of Emergency Medicine Research. “Most opioid prescriptions written in the emergency department are for shorter duration, written for lower daily doses and less likely to be for long-acting formulations."

Jeffrey and her colleagues analyzed data for 5.2 million opioid prescriptions filled in emergency rooms from 2009 to 2015.

They found that only 1.1% percent of “opioid naïve” patients with private insurance progressed to long term opioid use. That compares to 2% of patients in non-emergency settings. Long term use was defined as someone getting 10 or more refills or more than a 120 day supply of opioids in a year.

About 3 percent of Medicare beneficiaries used opioids long term after getting them in an ER, with disabled Medicare patients the most likely ER patients to progress to long term use (13.4%).

Only 3.3% of opioid doses for privately insured patients in the ER exceeded 90mg morphine equivalent units (what the CDC considers a high daily dose). That compares to 7.2% of doses in non-emergency settings.  The duration of prescriptions was also lower for ER patients.


"Less than 5 percent of opioid prescriptions from the ER exceeded 7 days, which is much lower than the percentage in non-emergency settings. Further research should explore how we can replicate the success of opioid prescribing in emergency departments in other medical settings," said Jeffery, whose study is published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The use of opioid medication in hospital emergency rooms has become a contentious issue for both patients and physicians, with many patients complaining that they are profiled and labeled as drug seekers when they seek treatment at an ER for pain.

“I refuse to go to the ER for pain. Unless I feel I'm absolutely dying, I will not go. It isn't worth being made to feel like I'm only ‘putting on a show’ or I'm a junkie just trying to get high,” one pain sufferer told us.

In a survey of over 1,250 pain patients last year by PNN and the International Pain Foundation, 80 percent said they had felt labeled as an addict or drug seeker by hospital staff. Asked if doctors were reluctant to prescribe opioid medication while they were hospitalized, over two-thirds said it happens often or sometimes. To see the complete survey results, click here.

“I had a doctor in an emergency room situation one time during an episode I was having, who actually stood in the open doorway of my room, I was still in the ER, and yelled at me as loud as he could, that he wasn't giving me any pain medicine,” said one patient.

Some hospitals, such as Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, have adopted guidelines that discourage opioid prescribing to ER patients. The voluntary policy quickly won broad support from Temple’s physicians.

In a survey by the hospital, only 13% of Temple’s ER doctors thought patients with legitimate reasons for opioids were denied appropriate care. A large majority – 84% of the doctors -- did not believe patients were denied appropriate pain relief.

“Emergency physicians have identified themselves as targets for patients who seek opioids for nonmedical purposes, yet it can be difficult for clinicians to distinguish drug seeking behavior from legitimate need,” said Daniel del Portal, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

Study Finds Racial Disparity in ER Opioid Prescriptions

By Pat Anson, Editor

Black patients who visit hospital emergency rooms with back and abdominal pain are significantly less likely to receive opioid prescriptions than white patients, according to a large new study published in PLOS ONE

The study, led by researchers at Boston University Medical Center, looked at data involving over 36 million emergency room visits in the U.S. from 2007 to 2011. No previous studies have examined racial disparities involving opioid prescriptions in ER settings.

The researchers found that opioids were prescribed for blacks at about half the rate for whites for vague “non-definitive conditions” that do not have an easy diagnosis -- such as back and abdominal pain.

No racial prescribing differences were found for ER visits involving fractures, kidney stones or toothaches – which are easier to diagnose.

The authors concluded that ER doctors may be relying on subjective cues such as race when deciding whether to prescribe opioids.

“These disparities may reflect inherent biases that health care providers hold unknowingly, leading to differential treatment of patients based on their race,” wrote co-authors Yu-Yu Tien of the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy and Renee Y. Hsia of the University of California at San Francisco.

“Healthcare providers carry inherent human biases, which can impact their prescription practices, especially in situations that do not lend themselves well to objective decisions. Racial-ethnic minority patients, especially non-Hispanic blacks presenting with vague conditions often associated with drug-seeking behavior, may be more likely to be judged as ‘a drug-seeker’ relative to a non-Hispanic white patient, presenting with similar pain-related complains.”

The authors noted that a recent study in JAMA found that prescription opioid abuse and addiction were actually more likely among whites than Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks.

“In light of this, our findings raises a perplexing question as to whether it is non-Hispanic blacks who are being under-prescribed, or is it non-Hispanic whites who are being over-prescribed. Paradoxically, then, while non-Hispanic blacks do not benefit from bias, they might be inadvertently benefitting by receiving fewer opioid medications and prescriptions,” they wrote.

In their analysis of emergency room visits, the researchers also found that uninsured patients and those on Medicaid were less likely to receive an opioid for “non-definitive conditions” than those with private insurance.

A small study at the University of Virginia also found signs of racial bias involving pain care in a survey of white medical students. Researchers asked 222 medical students and residents a series of hypothetical questions about treating pain in mock medical cases involving white and black patients suffering pain from a kidney stone or leg fracture.  

Many of the students and residents were found to hold false beliefs, such as believing that black people's skin is thicker and that their blood coagulates faster than whites.  Half of those surveyed endorsed at least one false belief; and those who did were more likely to report lower pain ratings for black patients and were less accurate in their treatment recommendations for blacks.

ER Doctors Lobby to Silence Pain Patients

By Pat Anson, Editor

A professional organization for emergency room physicians has joined in a lobbying effort to stop asking hospital patients about the quality of their pain care.

At issue is a Medicare funding formula that requires hospitals to prove they provide good care through patient satisfaction surveys. The formula rewards hospitals that are rated highly by patients, while penalizing those that are not. 

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the head of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) claims that asking patients about their pain care could lead to overprescribing of opioid pain medication. To see the letter, click here.

“Patient experience/satisfaction surveys are important, particularly regarding issues of treating patients with dignity and respect, but questions about pain have resulted in unintended consequences and the pursuit of high patient-satisfaction scores may actually lead health professionals and institutions to practice bad medicine by honoring patient requests for unnecessary and even harmful treatments,” wrote Jay Kaplan, MD, President of ACEP, which represents over 30,000 emergency room physicians in the U.S.

“Any questions which provide an opportunity for patients to express dissatisfaction because they didn’t get the drugs they sought, provide disincentives for physicians to prescribe non-opioid analgesics which will negatively affect their scores.”

Only two questions are asked about pain in the 32-question survey known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS):

During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well-controlled?

During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?

In his letter, Kaplan states “there is no objective diagnostic method that can validate or quantify pain” and until one is developed, both pain questions should be dropped from the survey.

“We are concerned that the current evaluation system may inappropriately penalize hospitals and physicians who, in the exercise of medical judgment, opt to limit opioid pain relievers to certain patients and instead reward those who prescribe opioids more frequently,” Kaplan wrote. “We urge the Department to undertake a robust examination of whether there is a connection between these measurements and potentially inappropriate prescribing patterns, and, until that is completed, we urge you to remove pain questions from the various CAHPS surveys.”

Kaplan’s letter is similar to one sent to Secretary Burwell in February by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and 25 of her colleagues in the U.S. Senate. To see that letter and the senators who signed it, click here.

“The evidence suggests that physicians may feel compelled to prescribe opioid pain relievers in order to improve hospital performance on quality measures,” wrote Sen. Collins.

Both Collins and Kaplan cite only one piece of “evidence” – a 2013 magazine article in The Atlantic  -- that mentions a small study of “drug seeking behavior” by emergency room patients. The article's author, who is a physician, also mentions anecdotal comments from colleagues and concludes “this problem is widespread.”  

Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation recently conducted a survey of over 1,250 pain patients and found that what is actually widespread in hospitals is poor pain care. Over half the patients surveyed said the quality of their pain treatment was poor or very poor and over 80 percent said hospital staffs are not adequately trained in pain management. Nine out of ten patients said they should be asked about their pain care in hospital satisfaction surveys.

“Before eliminating patients' right to critique their pain care, a better idea would be to ask doctors what they know about pain!” wrote one patient. 

When Pain News Network provided ACEP with the survey results, a spokesperson declined to comment on the findings.

A top Medicare official recently wrote an article in JAMA defending the HCAHPS survey.

"It has been alleged that, in pursuit of better patient responses and higher reimbursement, HCAHPS compels clinicians to prescribe prescription opioids. However, there is no empirical evidence that failing to prescribe opioids lowers a hospital’s HCAHPS scores," wrote Lemeneh Tefera, MD, Quality Measurement and Value-Based Incentives Group, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

"Although opioids are sometimes appropriate, depending on the underlying cause, other nonpharmaceutical approaches and multiple nonopioid pain medications are available to treat pain. Nothing in the survey suggests that opioids are a preferred way to control pain. On the other hand, good nurse and physician communication are strongly associated with better HCAHPS scores."

“I find this notion that we would stop asking patients how well their pain was controlled in the hospital appalling,” said Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. “I find it perverse that we would be more concerned with whether doctors in a hospital setting felt ‘pressure’ to provide pain relief than whether patients felt the hospital staff did all they could to help them with their pain. What ever happened to the focus on ‘patient-centered’ care?"

Pain Patients Say Non-Opioid Meds ‘Do Not Help at All’

By Pat Anson, Editor

In recent weeks, several efforts have been launched to scale back the use of opioid pain medication in hospitals and emergency rooms.

The American Pain Society (APS) released new guidelines for post-surgical pain that encourage physicians to limit the use of opioids, and to give acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), gabapentin (Neurontin), or pregabalin (Lyrica) to patients suffering from postoperative pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy and transcutaneous elective nerve stimulation (TENS) were also recommended by the APS for post-operative pain.

Similar measures were endorsed by an expert panel at the Jefferson College of Population Health in Philadelphia, which warned that relieving a patient’s post-surgical pain with opioids could lead to addiction.

“Clearly, giving patients what they want, or think they need, is not always in their best interest,” wrote lead author Janice Clark, RN, Jefferson College of Population Health.

But most pain patients aren’t getting what they want or what they need in hospitals -- pain relief --  according to an extensive survey of over 1,250 acute and chronic pain patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation (IPain).

Over half rated the quality of their pain care in hospitals as poor or very poor, and six out of ten patients said their post-surgical pain was not adequately controlled.

And many hospitals are already very reluctant to give patients opioids. Over half (53%) the patients in our survey say they were refused opioid pain medication while hospitalized.   

“If you end up in the emergency room you will NEVER be given opioid based pain meds. They use NSAIDs. That usually isn't good enough,” said a patient who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and spinal stenosis.

“This obsession with preventing pain sufferers from receiving adequate care is cruel and unusual. Would you deny a diabetic access to medication to control their condition?”


“They didn't want to hand out an opiate but were sure happy to go get me some Xanax,” said a patient who was hospitalized for an undiagnosed heart problem, as well as back and rib pain. “Welcome to the American standard of schooling and healthcare.”

“I went to the ER for a broken arm, and they took x-rays and told me it was broken. I asked for pain meds, even asked for non-narcotic meds, and got NOTHING, not even an aspirin with a broken arm, nothing while they put a cast on it and nothing to fill when I left,” said another patient.

“The pharma companies are using everything they can to increase the drug costs and these newer drugs are less effective and much more expensive. Soon they'll be suggesting we not use anesthesia for amputations,” said another pain sufferer.

Patients overwhelmingly agreed in our survey that non-opioid medications and therapies were ineffective in relieving pain. Nearly two-thirds (65%) said they “did not help at all” and nearly one in four said they only “helped a little.”

Just 11% said non-opioid treatments were very effective or somewhat effective at relieving pain.

“If they intend to use ‘preferred treatments’ like NSAIDs and Lyrica/Neurontin, they should have a reason for using these more dangerous, less effective meds,” wrote one patient.

“They should know that Lyrica and Neurontin can take months to build in the patient's system in order to be effective, and that NSAIDs can cause heart problems, gastric bleeding, and other side effects which can cause a host of new problems for the patient.”

“Tylenol won't help me and I'm allergic to NSAIDs. Why not do something about the real druggies that ruined it for the real patients? They get their medicines! I won't go to the ER unless I'm dying!” wrote another patient.


“Advil or Tylenol just don't cut it. It's ridiculous that you would not be treated for chronic pain in and out of hospital setting,” said another pain sufferer.

“I'm not surprised there's a perception that pain care is poor, in hospital or out,” said David Juurlink, MD, an internist and clinical pharmacologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

“It's important that patients understand that one major reason for this is that our available pain medications (principally acetaminophen, NSAIDs and opioids, but various other drugs as well), simply don't work well for many types of pain. I see this firsthand every day, and it highlights the need for research into novel drug therapies that treat pain safely and effectively,” said Juurlink, who is also a board member of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) and was a consultant to the CDC during development of its opioid prescribing guidelines.

“It's especially important that people not conflate ‘poor pain care’ with ‘reluctance to use opioids,’ because opioids really are no better than our other options for treating pain -- chronic pain in particular -- and they can make pain worse in a very short period of time. This phenomenon (opioid-induced hyperalgesia) is something we're just starting to understand, but it's one of many reasons why patients can have pain that persists or even worsens despite therapy. It's one more reason why doctors and patients need to de-emphasize the role of opioids in managing pain.”

One patient in our survey wishes hospitals would allow medical marijuana to be used an alternative to opioids.

“It would be better and safer if cannabis was allowed in treating pain in hospitals,” they said. ”I don't use opioids every day because I use cannabis instead. When I am in hospital I am forced back on opioids and go through withdrawal when I leave the hospital. This would not be the case if I could keep using cannabis instead.”

Still another patient discovered a novel way to get opioids in the hospital: don’t ask for them.

“I ended up learning to ask for non-opioid painkillers. That way when the painkillers they gave me didn't work, they would actually suggest them,” he said.

To see the complete survey results, click here.

Pain Patients Tired of Being Labeled as Addicts

By Pat Anson, Editor

If there’s one thing that gets a pain patient frustrated or angry, it’s being labeled as an addict or a “drug seeker” in search of opioids.  So imagine hearing that from a doctor or nurse at a hospital where you’ve gone for treatment because your pain is out of control or unbearable.

But it happens all the time.

“I refuse to go to the ER for pain. Unless I feel I'm absolutely dying, I will not go. It isn't worth being made to feel like I'm only ‘putting on a show’ or I'm a junkie just trying to get high,” one pain sufferer told us. “In every situation I've experienced in going to the ER with a complaint (of) pain, I've been made to feel less than human and was automatically met with suspicion.”

“I was screamed at and humiliated by the front desk nurse in front of a whole lobby of people for having pain and no medication or treatment. Had nowhere to go and didn’t know what else to do. She was so angry at me, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” said another pain patent.

“My husband experienced a ruptured appendix at home,” wrote one woman. “His hospital experience was a nightmare! I had to stay at the hospital 24/7 just to make sure that his pain was kept under control. He was ridiculed, humiliated and not believed to the point that he was ready to walk out.”

Those are some of the typical responses we received in a survey of over 1,250 acute and chronic pain patients by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation (IPain).  Nearly three out four patients surveyed said they currently take an opioid pain medication.

When asked if they ever felt labeled as an addict or drug seeker by hospital staff, nearly half (46%) said they often were and over a third (34%) said it happens sometimes. Only 20% of pain patents said they had not been labeled.

“I was treated like a drug seeker and humiliated in front of the staff and patients. This has happened several times,” wrote one pain sufferer.

“I was insulted, berated, and humiliated by hospital staff while seeking help for my chronic pain conditions,” said another.


“I have panic attacks about going to the hospital because I have been treated so badly,” wrote one woman. “I've heard nurses say, ‘She's only here for the free meds.’ I've had nurses and doctors yell at me when I explain my pain symptoms and ask for something simple like a pillow, or an IV in a different spot. I've been told, ‘You’re in a hospital. You are supposed to be uncomfortable!’”

“Doctors have called me a liar when it comes to why I have previously been in the ER or hospital. I have been told I am no better than a street addict,” wrote a patient who has pancreatitis and lupus.

“The nurses that treated me saw on the state Rx monitoring website I was taking opioids (although I had already told them). They shut the curtain and told me to take a nap! I was not seen by a doctor and was told I was a drug seeker,” wrote a patient who was seeking treatment for abdominal pain. “I got up and left and a couple weeks later was diagnosed with diverticulitis and a serious infection that could have killed me. I had 2 1/2 feet of my intestine taken out.”

Asked if doctors were reluctant to give them opioid pain medication while they were hospitalized, 38% of pain patients said it happens often and 36% said sometimes. Only 26% said no.

“I had a doctor in an emergency room situation one time during an episode I was having, who actually stood in the open doorway of my room, I was still in the ER, and yelled at me as loud as he could, that he wasn't giving me any pain medicine,” said one patient.

“I understand why opioids are scary to prescribe and I do understand that there are a lot of people just looking to get high. But doctors and hospitals discriminate (against) all of us with real medical problems and it’s inhumane,” wrote another.


“The nurses and doctors need to understand the difference between the 98% who are not drug seeking and be able to address the patients’ needs who present in front of them,” said Barby Ingle, president of IPain.  “Treatment based on misconceptions and poor pain understanding is not ethical or appropriate. We must create policies that support the pain patient and their individual needs.”

Even patients who do not take opioid medication said they were labeled as addicts or drug seekers --  just as often as those who take opioids.

“I am really sick of being looked at as if I am there for dope meds. Not all of us is addictive or crazy about pain meds,” wrote one patient.

“I am not a bad person. I am sick. I did not do this to myself, it was done to me in childhood trauma. I was abused, please don't abuse me more,” pleaded another patient.

“Everyone needs to be treated with compassion, respect, and have their concerns listened to. This is not happening. We need to start holding people accountable for how they treat people in pain,” says Janice Reynolds, a pain sufferer and retired palliative care nurse.

“I would encourage everyone when you have been to the ER or in the hospital to write a letter to the CEO of the hospital, the vice president of nursing, and the medical and nursing managers of the department you were in.  Tell them how you were treated, how they made you feel, what happened that didn’t work, and try to get names and write them down.  Do this for good treatment as well as bad treatment,” Reynolds wrote in an email Pain News Network.

“I have actually done this and while one letter may not be effective, you are a costumer and if they get several letters they may start seeing there is a problem.  I know at the hospital I worked at, we were always told about a positive or negative comment which mentioned us by name.”

Another way to lodge a complaint – or compliment – is in patient satisfaction surveys, which Medicare requires hospitals to conduct to prove they provide quality care. Medicare rewards hospitals that are rated highly by patients, while penalizing those who do not. 

However, Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) and 25 of her colleagues in the U.S. Senate have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell asking that Medicare stop asking patients about their pain care because that could lead to opioid overprescribing.

“We are concerned that the current evaluation system may inappropriately penalize hospitals and pressure physicians who, in the exercise of medical judgment, opt to limit opioid pain relievers to certain patients and instead reward those who prescribe opioids more frequently,” the letter states.

Pain patients say that’s nonsense. When we asked if patients should still be asked about their pain care in hospital satisfaction surveys, over 92% said yes and less than 3% said no.

“I find this notion that we would stop asking patients how well their pain was controlled in the hospital appalling,” said Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. “Dropping these questions from the Medicare survey sends the message that pain relief is no longer part of a quality-of-care measure that hospital staff need be concerned about. Controlling patients’ pain is just not that important any more.  Is this really where we want to go?


“We have moved from the war on drugs to the war on pain patients and now to the war on the very concept of appropriately treating pain.  This is a shameful perspective that condones a cavalier and uncaring attitude toward the pain and suffering of fellow human beings.  I wonder what the Senators who signed this letter would say about the responsibility for doctors and nurses in hospitals to relieve pain if it was their loved ones or themselves who was experiencing unrelieved pain in the hospital?”

A request to Sen. Collins’ office for an interview or statement on the survey findings went unanswered.

To see the complete survey results, click here.

Tomorrow we'll see how pain patients feel about non-opioid medications and whether they are effective in providing pain relief.

Pain Patients Fed Up with Poor Treatment in Hospitals

By Pat Anson, Editor

Eight out of ten pain patients feel hospital staff have not been adequately trained in pain management and over half rate the quality of their pain care in hospitals as either poor or very poor, according to a new survey.

Over 1,250 acute and chronic pain patients participated in the online survey by Pain News Network and the International Pain Foundation (IPain). The survey findings -- supported by the comments and experiences of hundreds of pain patients -- amount to a stinging indictment of hospital pain care in the United States.

It’s not uncommon for pain patients to suffer from a variety of chronic conditions and diseases, and many told us they've been hospitalized several times. 

Asked to rate the overall quality of their medical care in hospitals, pain patients were fairly even-handed in their ratings. About a third said it was good or very good, 37% said it was fair and 29% said it was poor or very poor.

But some said they were so badly treated and traumatized by the experience, they’re afraid to go back.

“It's so bad that I will not seek treatment in an ER or hospital unless I really feel like my life is in jeopardy. They do not get it, they do not listen, and they do not care,” is how one pain patient put it.

“I refuse to go to ER. It will end up killing me because I know how sick I am, but I would rather die than deal with ignorant, condescending doctors and nurses,” wrote another.


Several healthcare providers also wrote to us, admitting pain patients were often treated poorly.

"Many of my colleagues would refuse to medicate patients in pain, especially women in pain. They had many misconceptions that women were attention seeking, or exaggerating their pain. They also believed that even short term opioid therapy would 'create' addiction," wrote a nurse.

"I am a nurse anesthetist as well as a patient with fibromyalgia and severe arthritis," said another nurse. "The USA does a horrible job treating chronic pain. Too many suffer and too many commit suicide because of this."

When asked to rate only the quality of their pain treatment, the survey results were decidedly negative. Over 52% said their pain treatment in hospitals was poor or very poor, 25% rated it fair, and only 23% said it was good or very good.

Many patients complained that their pain went untreated or under-treated, even though pain was usually the primary reason they were admitted to a hospital. 

“I was at the ER once crying because I was in so much pain and I had a nurse tell me to shut up and cut the act. Never been treated so inhumanely,” said one pain patient.

“I've had to fight for proper pain management every time I've been in a hospital in the last 10 years. The DEA created this problem and the CDC is only reinforcing it. It's a travesty,” wrote another.


“If I were an animal and was treated the way I was after surgery my owner would have been arrested for cruelty to an animal. As a human being, don't I deserve to be treated at least as well as an animal?” asked another pain sufferer.

"I've stopped going to hospitals even if I feel I'm having another stroke or heart attack, due to the horrific lack of pain control," wrote a patient who has multiple autoimmune diseases. "I'd rather die than be judged or be left writhing in pain."

"Pain is under-treated and at times downright ignored. I believe that this is leading to the cause of chronic pain in some patients," wrote another patient.

There is some evidence to support the claim that untreated or under-treated acute pain can turn into chronic pain. A study published in the Lancet warned thatan alarmingly high number of patients develop chronic pain after routine surgery.”

Yet when pain patients were asked in our survey if their pain was adequately controlled after surgery or treatment in a hospital, nearly two-thirds (64%) said no and only 34% said yes. 

“There is research demonstrating that the intensity of acute postoperative pain correlates with the risk of going on to develop chronic pain. This suggests that aggressive early therapy for postoperative pain is critical for preventing the pain from turning chronic,” says Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation.


“Minimizing and deemphasizing the focus on controlling acute pain in hospital settings is likely going to set us up for potentially dramatic increases in the number of Americans with long term chronic pain.”

By treating acute pain so poorly, could our hospitals and emergency rooms be mass-producing future chronic pain patients?

And, if so, what can be done to stop it?

One solution – overwhelmingly supported by respondents to our survey – is better education in pain management for doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers.

Asked if they feel hospital staff are adequately train in pain management, nearly 83% of pain patients said no and just 9% said yes.  

“All staff should be educated and able to understand the difference between opioid dependency and opioid abuse," wrote one pain patient. "Over the last decade I have witnessed the quality of care for pain management plummet, and I have also observed increased chronic mistreatment of pain patients.”

"I am a nurse. Anyone who has chronic pain is labeled automatically as a drug seeker. The under-education about chronic pain is alarming. The way truthful patients are treated is just deplorable," wrote another pain sufferer.


"I think that hospital staff members are trained to be afraid of pain patients. They know what is necessary to treat pain, even chronic pain, but the fear that is instilled in them by oversight committees, the DEA, and Congress that all opiod pain prescriptions lead to drug addiction has led them to be afraid of treating pain patients. Education is the key," wrote another pain sufferer.

“In my 20+ years of having CRPS (Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome), I have never been to an ER where the staff even knew what it was,” wrote one of several readers who lamented that doctors and nurses are often ignorant about CRPS and RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy).

“I have experienced this myself. The nurses didn’t understand my pain conditions and how my body reacted. They didn’t understand that I had additional needs," said Barby Ingle, president of IPain, who suffers from RSD. "I have recently had a provider ask, 'Does it really hurt that bad?' while doing a procedure on me under local anesthesia. I was screaming, crying, and moving so much that a normal patient gets 7 anesthetic shots. For me it took 28 and those were extremely painful.

“For a pain patient to go to a hospital for pain care and still have their pain unaddressed, under-treated, or misunderstood is clear evidence that we need better education for hospital staff."

The lack of pain education in medical schools is not new. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Pain  called pain education "lackluster" in the U.S. and Canada. The study of 117 medical schools found that less than 4% required a course in pain education and many did not have any pain courses.

Despite that, opioid prescribing guidelines released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only briefly mention the agency will "work with partners to support clinician education" and even that vague promise is only focused on reducing opioid use. The same is true for the Food and Drug Administration, which recently announced several sweeping changes in its opioid policies, none of which address physician education.  

Only the recently adopted National Pain Strategy (NPS) acknowledges that "most health care professions’ education programs devote little time to education and training about pain and pain care," and suggests several ways to improve them.  But it's unclear how the NPS will ever be implemented, since it has no budget and relies on major policy changes involving medical schools, accreditation groups,  healthcare providers, and regulatory agencies. 

"I think it’s true that many hospital providers are poorly educated about pain management, and, especially if the patient’s condition is complex, understanding what is going on and finding a good solution can be very challenging,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, Executive Director of the American Academy of Pain Management, who believes providers need more empathy, as well as education.

"In my experience, I found that hospitalized patients were much more satisfied if they just felt like someone understood them and their pain, expressed a sense of caring, and made a strong effort to help. For those patients, even if you weren’t able to get their pain controlled for a little while, they really appreciated the fact that someone believed them and was trying to help. Sometimes, it’s as much about caring for the person with pain as it is treating the person with pain."

To see the complete survey results, click here.