The Power of the Pen

By Michael Emelio, Guest Columnist

It's my hope that this column can serve as a powerful example of the harm that can be caused when people are denied adequate pain management. And in so, I pray that it also serves as a lesson to doctors and is something that our lawmakers, CDC and DEA will take a moment to seriously consider.

To understand the full magnitude of the damage that's been caused, I implore you to read a guest column I wrote last year, in which I described how the opioid medication I take for intractable back pain was rapidly tapered to a lower dose, leaving me bedridden and disabled.

It's high time that the harm being inflicted on me and other innocent victims of the opioid crisis is both acknowledged and stopped!

While I can totally sympathize with a doctor's fear of repercussions from the DEA, there comes a point where it's no longer a valid or acceptable excuse. One of those points is when a doctor, with no medically valid reason, refuses to sufficiently treat a person's pain and it results in harm to that patient.

And when a doctor refuses to prescribe a reasonable opioid dose (especially one that is within the CDC opioid guideline) and it causes a patient's condition to significantly worsen, how are they not responsible for that harm?

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Speaking with other patients, I've been hearing a familiar story quite a bit lately. So much in fact, that it appears to be becoming an epidemic. Doctors with no medically valid reason are either failing or refusing to prescribe even within the CDC’s 90 MME guideline, while using the same old "well the DEA threatens to take our licenses away" excuse. 

Not only is it getting old, but it's getting people hurt and worse. And when I say that excuse is killing me, I may just mean literally!

Since the tapering started, I've gained 55 pounds and my blood sugar and cholesterol have soared to alarming rates. So in addition to all the things I can no longer do and my pain and suffering increasing, I'm now at risk of both heart disease and diabetes. Irrefutably, this is a direct result of being bedridden 24 hours a day due to the med cuts.

But it doesn't stop there. Adding insult to injury, these med cuts are also robbing me of the only chance I have to improve my condition.

Surgery Not An Option

It cannot be emphasized enough that I've seen several highly-acclaimed surgeons, who are absolutely unanimous in what options I have. They've all said the same thing: Surgery is not an option for me and due to the nature of my condition I should avoid any invasive procedures as they can make my pain worse. This includes spinal injections, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps, to name a few.

They've all said that the only viable options I have left are pain meds and physical therapy. The latter is essential because “mobility is crucial to help reduce the pain and improve function.” And to slow my rate of deterioration, I should do “as much physical therapy as possible." 

So by denying me the ability to complete physical therapy due to his forced med cuts, my doctor is not only robbing me of my only chance for improvement, he is directly causing my condition to worsen at an accelerated rate. Despite explaining all of this to him, my doctor informs me that he still plans on reducing my meds even further!

On what planet does this make any sense whatsoever? When you consider all the aspects of my condition and the damage the previous met cuts have already caused, how can this be helpful in any way, yet be a necessary or even a reasonable course of action?

Especially when I'm only at 60 MME, which is considerably less than the CDC's 90 MME guideline. Furthermore, I've been a patient of his for over a year and a half and have proven to take my medications responsibly the entire time, as well as the previous 18 years I've been in pain management.

Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me.
— Micahel Emelio

Think about this for a minute. I have a medical need for pain meds because of an incurable condition that is causing such severe intractable pain that I'm bedridden to the point that I struggle to care for myself properly. It’s also a condition where surgery and invasive procedures are not an option, all other methods and medications have failed, and the only chance for improvement is through physical therapy. Then add the fact that my health is in a serious state of decline as a direct result of the med cuts, and he still wants to cut them even more?

Unless you're in this boat yourself, you can't fathom the level of stress this causes. I'm literally afraid I may have a heart attack from it.

You have to understand the impact that just one more med cut would have on me. I live alone, have no one to help me, and with the dose I'm currently at, I'm already struggling most days just to microwave a TV dinner, yet alone clean my house or even care for myself properly. If he cuts my meds any further, the effect it will have on my life will be devastating.

As I sat in my car outside his office, the only thing I could think about was that if he reduces my meds any further, not only will my pain be unbearable, but I won't even be able to care for myself anymore. Being alone and poor, I only see two options at that point: street drugs or suicide. 

Make no mistake. That is the hand that is being forced on people when intractable pain is not treated!

Never in a million years could I have imagined being in this position. But sadly, this is my reality. And the truly astonishing part of it all is that he could stop all this damage and immensely change my life for the better tomorrow, simply by prescribing 2 more tablets a day, which would still be within the CDC guideline.

But no! Because of the CDC guideline and the fear instilled by the DEA, my doctor is covering his ass and slowly killing me. It's both staggering and terrifying knowing how much control he has over my life with just the swipe of his pen.

Which brings me to an interesting point. In medical school they teach about a thing they call the "power of the pen." It means to make sure that what they prescribe doesn't cause harm to the patient. I just wish my doctor realized that the power of the pen works both ways!

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Michael Emelio lives in Florida. Michael lives with severe degenerative disc disease, scoliosis and fibromyalgia. He has safely used opioid medication since 2001.

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.

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.

DIANA FRANKLIN

DIANA FRANKLIN

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.

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Diana Franklin lives in Texas.

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.

Why Are They Being So Cruel?

By Debbie Duke, Guest Columnist

I am 63 years old and have been on pain meds consistently since the age of 38.  I have systemic lupus and scleroderma, which fortunately is in remission.  I also suffer from gout, fibromuscular dysplasia, scoliosis, kidney pain and post-operative pain from breast cancer surgery.

My experience with pain management doctors in the beginning was very pleasant and I was getting relief from my agony. I was disabled but still functional due to pain medication. 

But recently things have changed.  After several years of using a pain pump, I decided to go back to oral medication to have more control.  The pump was not that effective for breakthrough pain and made me feel disconnected. After giving up on the pump, I changed doctors and the new one gave me the medication I had been before.

On my last visit, he said a new law requires patients on pain meds to have no more than the equivalency of 90mg of morphine.  Then he cut my dose in half.  I am now in agony and can see why people would turn to other ways of getting relief or decide to end it all. 

I love life and have many reasons to live. I care for a grandchild who had nearly been lost to foster care. Now, due to my inability to get around very well, I may not be able to continue taking care of her. 

DEBBIE DUKE

DEBBIE DUKE

I can't bear to think of it. 

Why are they being so cruel to those of us who are law abiding, while the crooks get away with it?  When someone grabs grandma's meds from her purse or medicine cabinet, why is that grandma’s fault? 

Overdoses have been around for years and years. Who did we blame?  The one who stuck the needle in their arm, that's who.  Yes, we have a drug epidemic, but do something about the drugs coming across our borders. There has been enough squeezing of patients. Give them what works for them.  It sickens me to see patients treated unjustly turning to other ways to help themselves.

I'm truly afraid that everything in my life as I know it will end.  Thanks to irrational politicians who have taken away our right to be as free of pain as possible.

I think sometimes about what will be said in the future.  We'll be saying, “Remember the days when we were able to have pain relief and no one had to suffer?”

I know that people are dying, but to equate prescriptions with illegal drugs to make some political point is wrong. I wish those that are in pain could march down Pennsylvania Avenue. But we are too sick for that. 

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Debbie Duke lives in Florida.

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.

Living My Retirement in Pain

By Marleina Hampton, Guest Columnist

At the age of 66, I never thought I would be living my retirement life in pain.

At age 13 I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The choice was made that I would wear a cast from my collarbone to my pelvis in order to "hold" the spine straight. Surgery was not an option.

During my late 20's, my back started to bother me and by the time my 30's arrived, I was in pain after standing or sitting. When I moved to California in 1990, I started looking for ways to treat this pain that was getting steadily worse. I did physical therapy, epidurals, prolotherapy and every other office procedure known to man, without success.

In 2003 when the pain was so bad I wanted to die, I had my first back surgery, which gave me some relief. But it wasn't long before I was suffering again.

Fast forward to 2012, I relented and had spinal fusion surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. My back is now fused from T10 to S1, with two titanium rods and 20 screws.

My doctor told me that I would be on some type of pain medication for the remainder of my life. I saw several pain management doctors and finally asked my primary care provider if he would take over my pain management.

MARLEINA HAMPTON

MARLEINA HAMPTON

In 2015, my husband retired and we moved to Prescott, Arizona. Little did I know that my nightmare was just beginning! I couldn't find a doctor who would accept me as a patient!  Prescott has a high number of addiction recovery homes and the pain management doctors refuse to accept appointments without a referral.

I spent weeks trying to find a doctor and was told by medical professionals that they are not comfortable having me as a patient! Just recently, I drove almost 2 hours through rain, ice, and snow to see a pain management doctor in Phoenix. I thought I would receive a higher level of care in a larger city. But when he found out that I was not a candidate for epidurals, he said he wasn't comfortable having me as a patient. That his practice did not prescribe drugs!

In tears, I called my doctors in California and they too were appalled that I was being treated this way. Never in my life did I have a problem receiving medication.

I finally found a doctor who agreed to prescribe pain medication for me. Now I go in every month to pick up my prescriptions. I was told that my doctor continues to receive emails asking him to cut down on the number of opioid prescriptions he writes. He knows what my life would be like with pain medication and said he would fight for me.

If I should be denied pain medication, I will probably join the ranks of many before me who have taken their lives because they no longer can cope with the pain. Every month I wonder if this is the month that my doctor will get tired of the battle. This is not the retirement life I had imagined.

Marleina Hampton lives in Prescott, Arizona.

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 represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.