There’s More Concern About Animals Suffering Than People

By Debbie Westerman, Guest Columnist

I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, as well four herniated discs in my lower back. Because of the “opioid crisis,” I was taken off the only medication that ever helped: fentanyl.

I see a reputable doctor and he is very sympathetic. But as he put it, doctors are no longer just being sued, they are being threatened with jail time.

In addition to my pain and fear, I felt so sorry for him. We’ve tried everything: nerve blocks, injections and I have two spinal cord stimulators.

I was weaned off the fentanyl and only have hydrocodone that I take for breakthrough pain. 

I’ve done everything I’m supposed to. I have an appointment with my doctor every 28 days, along with random drug tests to make sure I’m only taking what he’s prescribing.

My insurance doesn’t pay for the random drug tests. I have to pay $150 each time. I don’t abuse my meds. All of my doctors know what I’m taking. I don’t get any type of pain meds from anyone except my pain management doctor.



I have to go to work every day. I’m single and have to take care of myself. I use a walker to get around. It’s been months since I have slept more than 2 to 4 hours a night. I’m constantly turning over, putting the pillow under my legs or between my legs, and the rest of the night I’m in and out of bed trying to walk because the pain is so bad.

What really gets me is that if I were an animal and suffering this bad with this much pain, I would be humanely put down. As a society we’ve become more concerned about our animals than we are about people who are suffering unspeakable, unexplainable amounts of pain.

I’ve never wished my pain on anyone. But I really wish that there was some way that these people who think they know what’s best for me could spend 6 hours in my shoes. I guarantee they would be screaming a different tune.


Debbie Westerman lives in Texas.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to 

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.


“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.

Johnson & Johnson Verdict Will Harm Chronic Pain Patients

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

This week an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the company to pay $572 million in damages.

I watched the entire 7 weeks of the Oklahoma trial and hoped that Judge Thad Balkman would get this right. I do not believe that he did. Johnson & Johnson may have the funds available to pay such a big penalty, but what about the healthcare providers, pharmacies, insurers, FDA, DEA and drug abusers who also played a role in causing the crisis?

This verdict shows that pain patients in America are once again being overlooked for the lives of drug addicts. Both problems need to be addressed: addiction and chronic pain.

I am a chronic pain patient who has been mistreated, undertreated, overtreated and misdiagnosed over the years. Do I think the $572 million is going to make a difference in my care or other pain patients? No, I don’t. We have already seen patients commit suicide because they were taken off opioid medications that were helping them cope with life and manage their pain.

The insurance companies won’t cover the other treatments and for some patients who have tried those treatments and failed, opioids were the only thing giving them quality of life.

Now we see a rise in the suicide rate and overdoses are still high. And where is the problem really coming from? Street drugs.


How is a manufacturer of opioids held liable, but people who chose to abuse drugs are not held accountable? Is it because they can’t make money off poor people?

The Oklahoma verdict is not holding the right people accountable by any reasonable standard. It distorts the public nuisance law beyond recognition and will take away more options and choices from pain patients. This is only the start. Nearly 2,000 other opioid lawsuits are awaiting trial.

Why force these pharmaceutical companies into settlements? Why force an industry that saves millions of lives to do this? We need the industry to keep working on treatments. Less than 5% of the 7,000 rare diseases have any treatment options available. Are these lives less valuable than addicts’ lives? We need to stop forsaking one life for another.

I for one hope that Johnson & Johnson appeals for the sake of the pain community and for the sake of all who need pain medications -- be it for an acute situation such as kidney stones, a shattered pelvis or a chronic illness such as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, arachnoiditis, sickle cell or lupus.

I don’t believe that the pharmaceutical industry started, fueled or conspired to create the largest public health crisis of our time. I don’t believe there is an opioid epidemic. Addiction does affect millions of people but in many cases the help they need has not been provided. Billions of dollars in federal funding, including grants from President Trump’s opioid initiatives, haven’t been fully set up or spent to make a difference.

I believe it's up to the providers and pharmacists to tell us about the risks associated with opioids. They do in most cases. We as chronic pain patients want to have all options on the table. It's going to take a multi-modal approach that will have to start with human behavior and people being responsible for their own actions.

Insurance companies are already using tactics such as step therapy, prior authorization and stall tactics to prevent people from getting proper treatment. This is being done to both the addiction and chronic pain communities. It saves insurers millions of dollars, yet they are not being held accountable for care that is being denied.

For those in pain it's important to have opioids available and it’s not a simple matter of pharmaceutical companies being all bad and responsible for everything that happens to society.

Barby Ingle.jpg

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her 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.

Chronic Pain Patients Are Collateral Damage of the Opioid Crisis

By Diana Franklin, Guest Columnist

I have been watching the news a lot lately. It seems like much of the coverage is devoted to the opioid crisis, and rightfully so. But I feel it’s a little one-sided.

I fully understand the issue with illegal drugs, doctors overprescribing, pharmaceutical companies flooding markets with powerful pills, and how all of that is a very big problem. I hate that so many are addicted and something needs to be done to stop it.

However, I also know that there are law abiding citizens in serious, legitimate pain that are getting swept up in the chaos and suffering because of it. These people feel like they're being punished and forgotten about. I know this, because I am one of them.

I had severe scoliosis as a kid. When I was 12, I was told it was progressing so quickly that I could end up bedridden or possibly dead by the age of 21. I had to have surgery to straighten and fuse a large portion of my spine with metal rods. Luckily, the surgery was a success.

When I was in my 30’s, one of the discs that hadn't been fused in my lower back slipped. A doctor did two laminectomies, where they shaved down the back side of the vertebrae. A year later, I had another surgery on the cervical spine in my neck.

These surgeries may have fixed the problem with the discs, but unfortunately the damage was done and I was left with severe nerve damage and in constant pain.



I saw a pain management specialist and tried several different pain medications until I found something that helped. I was still very limited in what I could do, but I was at least able to get out of the house on occasion, though I was unable to work and had to go on disability.

While battling these health issues, I lost my husband and had to find a way to survive with my two sons. This was made even more difficult when my pain started getting worse. I got an MRI which revealed that I also have degenerative disc disease. There is very little space between the few discs in my lower back that aren't fused, meaning that bone is rubbing on bone, crushing the nerves and causing tremendous pain.

With oxycodone, I was still in a great deal of pain, but as long as I didn't get up and do too much, I could push through the day. I always took less than needed and tried hard to manage the pain any other way before I took my pills. I had regular drug tests, per my doctor’s protocol, to ensure that I wasn't taking too much.

I have seen this doctor for 20 years and he always went above and beyond, with all of his patients, to ensure that he only gave them what they need to control their pain without becoming addicted.

Recently, the government stopped allowing my doctor to prescribe any opioids, leaving many of his patients, including myself, without any pain medication at all. Due to the pain and nerve damage, I have trouble walking, my hands and arms will hurt and swell up, and my back feels like it's being crushed. I have severe migraines and often end up crying due to the pain.

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.

Because there is so much damage to my spine, managing the pain is my only real option. The few other options I have aren't covered by insurance and there’s no guarantee that they will help. They could possibly make my situation worse.

My life has gone from enjoying my kids and young grandkids to being essentially trapped in my recliner, not knowing how much longer I can live with the pain.

I have been strongly against illegal drugs all my life. I believe that the government should do what it can to make sure criminals aren't getting their hands on these medications and crackdown on doctors that overprescribe them.

However, by taking pain medication away from everyone, they have made me collateral damage. Patients like me, even those with cancer, are being left without any pain medication at all. Some have committed suicide because they just can't handle the pain.

I am trying hard to fight against thoughts like that, but it is difficult when every moment is spent in excruciating pain. Something has to be done to allow doctors to prescribe pain medicine to those who truly need it, without fear of government prosecution. Put in strict regulations, drug testing and criteria that people have to meet, so that those in legitimate pain can still be given the lifesaving pain relief that they desperately need.

I don't have all the answers, but I know that something needs to be done and we need to be heard. Please, don't sit by as so many suffer. People like me fight our battles every day just to survive, but it gets harder every second that we're in blinding, unthinkable pain.

People talk all the time about the people who die in overdoses. That is indeed a tragedy, but what no one wants to talk about are the people dying simply because they can't cope with the amount of pain that they're in. We need a solution and we need it now! More than anything, we need a loud voice to be heard above all the other shouting that seems to be surrounding this issue.

Please help me get the word out, not just about my story, but so many other stories out there of people in pain. I want as many people as possible, especially lawmakers, to see this and understand what we go through. Please like and share with everyone you can.


Diana Franklin lives in Texas.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to 

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.

Are Rx Opioids Scapegoats for the Opioid Crisis?

By Dr. Lynn Webster, PNN Columnist

The Washington Post recently published a series of stories about the volume of opioid medication distributed over the past several years in the United States. Over 76 billion pills were distributed from 2002 through 2012.

That sounds like a huge amount, but it is difficult to know what the number means. What is clear is that the stories are meant to suggest the number of pills is excessive and responsible for the rise in opioid overdose deaths. 

This presumed correlation is one reason for the recent lawsuits that have been filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors. It has also spawned policies that appear to have worsened, not prevented, overdoses.

Though the situation has been framed largely as a prescribing problem, the reasons for the drug crisis are many. While overprescribing has certainly been a factor, it is probably less important than other factors, such as joblessness, homelessness and despair, which are more challenging to address.

Let’s look at the data about the relationship between opioid prescriptions and overdose death rates. The number of opioid prescriptions in the United States peaked in 2012 and began a steady decline. By 2017, they reached a 15-year low.


Despite the decline in the number of opioids prescribed, overdoses from all opioids – both legal and illegal -- continued to increase. Overdoses involving prescription opioids represent only about 25% of the total number of drug overdoses.  

Obviously, something more than the supply of prescription opioids is driving overdoses higher.

No Correlation Between Opioid Prescriptions and Overdoses

After winning a year-long court battle with the Justice Department, the Post and HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, were able to access data from the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS).

The information in the database shows that, between 2006 and 2012, West Virginia received the largest per capita amount of prescription opioids. The state also experienced the highest opioid-related death rate during that period. Is there a correlation?

Kentucky also had a high number of pills and a high death rate, but as Jacob Sullum recently reported in Reason, Kentucky’s death rate in 2017 was actually lower than Maryland’s and Utah’s, where prescription rates are substantially lower. He also pointed out that although Oregon’s prescription rate was among the highest in the country, the rate of deaths involving pain pills in Oregon was just 3.5 per 100,000, lower than the rates in most states. 

Sullum further showed that Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee were among the 10 states with the highest per capita prescribed pills during the 2006-2012 period. But they were not the states with the highest overdose rates. 

In a separate analysis, the CDC and Agency for Healthcare Research Quality found no correlation -- not even a weak one -- between opioid prescribing rates and overdoses when comparing data from each state. 

In addition, the rate of opioid prescribing is highest nationally for people 55 years and older, but that age group has the lowest rate.  

This lack of correlation between opioid overdoses and the volume of prescribed opioids is consistent internationally. In 2016, England prescribed the most opioids and saw the most overdose deaths in its history. However, the drug responsible for many of those deaths was heroin, not prescription opioids. 

There is a raging opioid crisis in West Africa where, despite a low prescription rate, the number of overdoses has surged

In 2018, Scotland's drug overdose rate exceeded that of the United States -- largely because of heroin. There is no evidence of an overall increase in opioid prescribing in Scotland. 

No Simple Answers to the Opioid Crisis

It is clear that the data does not support a simple answer to the opioid crisis. Focusing all of our efforts on decreasing the supply of prescriptions will not solve the problem and is already creating unintended consequences.

In fact, cocaine and methamphetamine were involved in more overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2018 than prescription opioids. As the supply of prescription opioids has decreased due to the policies of the last few years, people have moved from prescription opioids to other illicit drugs.

The solution to the opioid crisis must be multi-pronged. Overprescribing played a role in causing the crisis, but sociological factors appear to have driven the demand. We must consider what prompts people to turn to drugs in despair. A recent study published in SSM-Population shows job loss bears a significant correlation to opioid-caused deaths.

In addition, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton (recipient of the 2015 Nobel prize in economics) showed mortality from substance use was linked to declining economic opportunity and financial insecurity.

Solving the drug crisis will not be easy. However, the disenfranchised members of our most impoverished communities deserve viable solutions to their problems. It is crucial to understand the degree to which job loss and hopelessness contribute to the drug problem.

Reputable data proves that the volume of opioids prescribed is not solely, or even primarily, responsible for the opioid crisis. Let’s focus on what is responsible.


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.”

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.

Medical Cannabis Won’t Solve the Opioid Crisis

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

Medical cannabis legalization isn’t helping reduce opioid overdoses. Two major studies have closely examined over a decade’s worth of data, finding no support for the idea that legalizing medical cannabis reduces prescription opioid use, overdose or mortality.

In June, Stanford researchers led by Chelsea Shover, PhD, published a study in PNAS using the same methodology as a 2014 JAMA study that found a positive association between cannabis legalization and lower opioid mortality from 1999 to 2010. But Shover and colleagues included more recent data and states with legalized medical cannabis.

“Our expanded analysis does not support the interpretation that broader access to cannabis is associated with lower opioid overdose mortality,” they concluded.

The 2014 study was very cautious in its findings, but cannabis advocates and industry representatives used it to support legalization efforts.

“It’s become such a pervasive idea,” Shover told STAT News. “It would be amazing if it was this simple, but the evidence is telling us now that it’s not.”


Early this month, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health published a new study in JAMA Network Open that looked at whether people use cannabis in place of prescription opioids.  Researchers looked at data from 627,000 people aged 12 years and older who took the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2004 to 2014.

The results showed that enactment of medical marijuana laws was not associated with a reduction in prescription opioid abuse, contradicting the hypothesis that people would substitute marijuana for prescription opioids.

“We tested this relationship and found no evidence that the passage of medical marijuana laws — even in states with dispensaries — was associated with a decrease in individual opioid use of prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes," said senior author Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia.

The Shover-PNAS study also made the important point that medical cannabis users comprise only about 2.5% of the U.S. population. The vast majority of cannabis use is recreational. The Washington State Liquor Control and Cannabis Board estimates that only about 20% of so-called medical users are really using cannabis for medical reasons.

In other words, there aren’t enough medical cannabis users to impact nationwide overdose trends. And in state-level analysis, there is no evidence of any substantial effect, positive or negative, from medical cannabis legalization.

There are concerns that cannabis could actually make the opioid crisis worse. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that “cannabis use appears to increase rather than decrease the risk of developing nonmedical prescription opioid use and opioid use disorder.”

Scientific evidence does not support claims that marijuana helps people kick opioids.
— Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director

"My main concern is by basically misinforming potential patients about the supposedly beneficial effects of cannabis, they may forgo a treatment that is lifesaving," NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD, told USA Today. “Scientific evidence does not support claims that marijuana helps people kick opioids.”

The FDA is taking note, warning a large cannabis operator last week to stop making unsubstantiated claims that its products can treat chronic pain, cancer, opioid withdrawal and other medical conditions.

Medical cannabis has uses, of course, but taking it for conditions it is not proven to help may lead to harms. Perhaps a way can be found to incorporate cannabis in addiction treatment, but that is quite different from expecting medical cannabis legalization to be an exit ramp for the opioid crisis.

Roger Chriss.jpg

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.

How West Virginia Became the Epicenter of the Opioid Crisis

By Douglas Hughes, Guest Columnist 

Aggressive promotion by the distributors of OxyContin, the best pain medication ever formulated (when properly used), led to excessive prescribing by West Virginia doctors. 

This caused a methamphetamine drug problem in the state to morph into a prescription opioid epidemic, mostly due to unused opioids squirreled away in medicine cabinets.  Adolescents ignored by their guardians had complementary party favors of these excess opioids. This is why so many families were affected. 

After a few years of this, once the addiction problems were exposed, the excess prescribing stopped. Those desiring to misuse OxyContin went to pain clinics and lied to receive more.  Since we don’t have tachometers on our foreheads to gauge real subjective pain, lying to doctors was effective for many to get drugs to abuse.  

Not wanting to assist pain specialists and willing to deny legitimate intractable pain treatment, the West Virginia legislature passed the “Chronic Pain Clinic Licensing Act.”

When implemented on January 1, 2015, the goal to deny licenses to a dozen new and existing pain clinics was achieved. This left only pills being hoarded in medicine cabinets, which were quickly depleted.  

OxyContin distribution was suspended to pharmacies in most of West Virginia in 2015. 


These two efforts stopped most OxyContin prescribing and decimated legitimate disabled intractable pain sufferers in West Virginia, the state with the highest incidence of industrial and worker compensation injury cases. 

For the sake of argument, let’s estimate pain clinic patients were 50% legitimate pain sufferers and 50% abusers lying in order to get opioids.  Each of those twelve pain clinic closures turned a thousand or more patients onto the streets.  Some wanted to abuse, while others desperately sought to replace critical pain treatment denied to them by state law.  Some turned to street drugs as their answer. 

In 2015, West Virginia police departments reported that pain pills seized from drug arrests fell a remarkable 89 percent. The opioid crisis was shifting rapidly to heroin, as the drug sub-culture always does when a drug source changes. The prescription opioid epidemic in West Virginia essentially ended in 2015.  There was no memo from the CDC.

Those thousands of good and bad patients from pain clinics were both naive to the strength and use of heroin.  Dosing, once regulated by prescription, now was more lethal. Learning how to prepare and inject heroin without becoming infected, overdosing and dying was problematic. There were record overdose deaths in 2015, even though there were fewer pain pills. 

Counterfeit medication and heroin laced with illicit fentanyl appeared and record overdose deaths continued in 2016 and 2017 because there were so many inexperienced street drug users.  

Since 2015, West Virginia has wasted millions of dollars annually chasing imaginary diversion and investigating and prosecuting good physicians. This satisfied everyone except legitimate pain patients, who were left suffering and dying in their beds.  A suicide epidemic ensued.

West Virginia lacks a prevention component to their drug crisis response, which insured the re-occurrence of another epidemic. Apparently, we are satisfied with this catastrophe. May we have another?   


Douglas Hughes is a disabled coal miner and retired environmental permit writer in West Virginia.

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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.