By Katie Burge, Guest Columnist
Tell me... exactly when did it become acceptable for physicians to not only harm, but to actually contribute to a patient's demise by denying adequate, necessary medical care?
I'm referring to the rising death rate among chronic pain patients, whose doctors have yielded to political pressure and reduced their patients’ doses of pain medication to the point that they are virtually useless or refused to continue prescribing pain medication at all -- regardless of diagnosis or need -- because they fear regulatory action if they continue treating pain with opioids.
Am I missing something? Under the Hippocratic Oath, aren't physicians supposed to strive to do no harm? Or should we just start calling it the Hypocritical Oath when it comes to people in pain?
You might think that denying opioids to folks can only be a positive thing, but for those of us who suffer from severe, round-the-clock pain that only responds to opioids, this scenario is a nightmare. Losing access to the only thing that lessens your pain can feel like a death sentence. And in some cases, it is.
Being forcibly tapered off opioids and then having to cope with the full brunt of your pain causes extreme stress, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Even worse, it causes some patients to lose hope of ever attaining help and commit suicide.
This almost happened to me last year. The really shocking thing is when I told a couple of my doctors that I was becoming increasingly suicidal because of pain, they just ignored me.
I guess they felt like if they acknowledged the reasons for my depression, they might have to address my pain. That is unacceptable to many physicians nowadays. I call this the "Ostrich" School of Medicine — where the doctors bury their heads in the sand whenever the topic of chronic pain comes up.
Many doctors have become so desensitized to pain and suffering that they seem to believe they're absolved of any responsibility when presented with a patient whose chronic pain is so severe that it only responds to opioids. They'll fall all over themselves trying to get away from us.
My longtime family doctor refuses to even discuss my chronic pain. And when pain management specialists see the catalog of all my conditions, they visibly cringe. It’s as though I make them feel threatened, when the real threat comes from bumbling bureaucrats attempting to prove that they aren't completely impotent when it comes to dealing with the opioid epidemic.
A major truth about the opioid epidemic is that these bureaucrats can't do a damn thing about recreational drug use, but they want their constituents to believe they can. So in a lame attempt at proving their political prowess, they put the squeeze on pain management physicians and blame vulnerable pain patients for other people's opioid abuse.
What really makes my jaw drop in astonishment is the fact that most doctors simply kowtow to this bureaucratic lunacy without even trying to advocate for their patients or their own right to treat patients to the full extent of their education and experience. Doctors should never be put in the position of having to choose between incarceration and providing compassionate medical care.
There aren't many courageous physicians left who will help somebody like me. I did eventually find one who gives me about half the medication I need to get through a month and be able to function. This enabled me to survive my “suicidal” level of pain, but I wouldn't actually call it living.
My round-the-clock pain is being treated with a short-acting opioid that I'm only allowed to take once every 8 hours, because the doctor says he's not "allowed" to prescribed the long-acting, time released opioids anymore. These extended relief medications provide much better, more even relief -- often at a lower dose than the immediate release, short-acting opioids.
My current drug regimen creates kind of an evil roller coaster effect, where I'm okay for 3 or 4 hours and then the pain spikes for the next 4 hours until I can take another dose. And then the roller coaster takes off all over again.
Over the past 20 years, I've tried every traditional and alternative treatment known to medical science. Some have been beneficial and some have not, but I've learned what is safe and effective for me. I just wish my doctor would take my word for it. I know I'll never be pain free and surgeons say they're unable to "fix" me, so pain management is the only option I have left.
I am alive today due to a combination of God's grace and the adrenaline created by a combination of righteous indignation and an intense passion to help other pain patients and educate the public about chronic pain.
If you are a pain patient or you love a pain patient, please speak up and be counted if you're not getting the treatment you deserve. Never give up!
Katie Burge lives in Mississippi. Katie has degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, failed back syndrome, stenosis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
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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.