Limiting Rx Opioids Is Making Opioid Epidemic Worse

By David Hanscom, MD, Guest Columnist

I am an orthopedic spine surgeon who specializes in complex problems in all areas of the spinal column.

Over the last five years, a significant percent of my practice has been addressing spine infections, most of them in patients addicted to intravenous drugs. Bacteria can enter the blood stream from a contaminated needle and lodge in the discs between the vertebrae, which have a limited blood supply. It’s an ideal environment for bacterial growth and it destroys the neighboring discs and vertebra. Often they weaken to the point where they break.

Corrective surgery entails draining the infection and then stabilizing the broken spine with a fusion. These operations are complex, expensive and risky. After surgery there is a minimum of six weeks of IV antibiotics.  Occasionally, a patient ends up paralyzed because the infection cuts off the blood supply to the spinal cord.

One typical case was that of middle-aged carpenter with low back pain, who had been able to work for years by taking a stable low dose of opioid medication. He needed to keep working, so when the local pain clinic shut down, he felt he had no other choice but to use IV heroin. His spine became infected and the infection spread deeply into his pelvis. I met him in the hospital when he was extremely ill, and it took three operations to drain and stabilize his spine.

My experience from this and other cases tells me the opioid epidemic is rapidly getting worse. In addition to the medical problems created from IV drug abuse, there were nearly 49,000 overdose deaths from opioids – both legal and illegal -- in 2017. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a viable solution in sight. In fact, current efforts to reduce opioid prescribing are exacerbating the problem. Although I agree with more careful prescribing practices, it isn’t the answer to the epidemic.

This CDC graphic tells why. As deaths from prescription opioids leveled off over the past several years, mortality from heroin and synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl have spiked higher. Although the medical system is decreasing the supply of prescription opioids, it’s pushing people to these illicit sources.  

3WavesOfTheRiseInOpioidOverdoseDeaths-medium.jpg

Chronic Pain and Anxiety

Nearly 90 percent of patients on opioids have chronic pain, while the rest mostly suffer from acute pain. But the mental pain is a far greater problem than the physical pain. Any physical or mental threat causes your body to secrete stress hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline and histamines to improve your chances of survival.

The sensation created by these chemicals is anxiety. Humans have a major problem when they can’t escape from negative thoughts. Anxiety triggers a sustained chemical assault that we will try almost anything to escape from. This unconscious and automatic survival response is over a million times stronger than the conscious brain.

Research has documented that when you are upset for any reason, your pain will increase. It isn’t psychological or “all in your head.” There’s a direct linkage between pain circuits and stress. You will experience an increased speed of nerve conduction from stress chemicals, causing your pain levels to increase.

Many Treatments Don’t Work

Another problem is that modern medicine isn’t providing viable solutions to chronic pain. A recent survey found that only about 1% of physicians enjoy and are comfortable treating chronic pain.

Modern medicine is only pretending to treat your pain. You go to the doctor trusting him or her to help you and you’re repeatedly disappointed. As your frustration grows, your stress hormones remain elevated and your pain physically worsens.

Even worse, many “mainstream” interventions such as surgery have been demonstrated to be ineffective and often cause harm, while effective treatments are not readily available because they are not covered by insurance. A significant percent of a medical system’s revenue is driven by these expensive and risky interventions.

bigstock-healthcare-medical-and-future-50084171.jpg

Instead of exploring ways to implement effective treatments for pain, the government and medical establishment are focusing their efforts on restricting access to pain medications -- with most of the focus being on the providers. Physicians are now afraid to prescribe long-term opioids, even though most of us have had patients thrive on a stable opioid regimen.

This is the worst step that could be taken because patients immediately experience increased anxiety, frustration and eventually anger when they are cutoff or have their doses reduced.

What can we do to solve the opioid epidemic?

First, solve chronic pain! Recent medical research has revealed possible solutions but mainstream medicine isn’t implementing them.

Second, recognize that what drives most people to use opioids is mental pain. Physical pain is often secondary.

Third, environmental factors, especially family dynamics may be exacerbating chronic pain. Allow physicians to take the time to listen to patients and focus on their real problems, rather than just randomly treat their symptoms.

Finally, since the problem is so pervasive, the answers must be widely available and implemented by anyone. 

David Hanscom.jpg

Dr. David Hanscom is a spinal surgeon who has helped hundreds of back pain sufferers by teaching them how to calm their central nervous systems without the use of drugs or surgery.

In his book Back in ControlHanscom shares the latest developments in neuroscience research and his own personal history with pain.

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.

Defining Your Story As a Patient Advocate

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

Almost a year ago, I covered the topic of motivational speaking as a patient advocate for the pain community. A lot of the information I shared dealt with how to plan and organize for advocacy, but the messaging you use is equally important. It must be specific to the audience you’re trying to reach.

I have learned that honing and defining my story is an important aspect of being an advocate. I used to spew it all out and see what sticks, but have learned over the years that when I concentrate on a few key points specific to my audience I will be a more effective communicator.

For instance, when I spoke at a rare disease event, I focused on how rare conditions have impacted me and how more rare disease research and funding are needed. At a cancer event, I spoke about my experiences with cancer and the missing support I see in that area.

There is no specific way to advocate, but there are some basic guidelines that can help get you started. The first step is finding your own voice. You want to have your own message and share your own personal story. You don’t want to copy or act like someone else. I have told newbies, “Don’t try to be me. You be you, and I’ll be me.”

speaker-2678020_960_720.png

When honing your message, start with deciding what you want to talk about. Sometimes it is important to go wide and broad when talking about chronic pain, but other times it’s important to discuss your most pressing experiences with a specific disease or challenge.

There are thousands of issues that need working on in the chronic pain world, from access to medication to finding a compassionate doctor. Defining the issue that’s important to you is key. You must be able to explain your point of view and back it up with data and science that is relevant and recent.

Keep it simple. Think of 2 or 3 takeaways for your audience. What should the listener walk away knowing when you are done?  In many cases, such as testifying at a legislative hearing, you’re only going to get 2 or 3 minutes to speak. Respect the time limit and practice beforehand so that you can explain and emphasize your takeaways. Leave a few moments for follow up questions.

Remember, you are not sharing your message to prove someone else is wrong or to undermine them. You are there to share your story and the challenges that affect your daily living. I do a lot of reality television, and producers always remind me to only talk about what I want to bring attention to. If I talk about someone else’s message, it takes away from my own. Tell them who you are, how you are affected by a policy, and what can be done to solve it.  

Your personal story should be about you and what you have gone through. If you’re a caregiver whose spouse was put through step therapy and had delays in getting proper medication, how did that affect you?  What did that delay in care do to you? Why do you care about this cause? Let the audience know why you care.

Next, give them the takeaways. There should always be “an ask.”  What do you want your audience to do for you?  A state legislator may be voting on a specific bill that you want them to support or vote against. Or tell your audience how they can help spread awareness and advocacy.

Keeping the requested action positive is important and keeps it moving in society. You could ask other patients to discuss an issue with their friends or to be sure to vote. You can ask for just about anything, but be as specific as possible. If you are asking for others to make a change or believe in something you advocate, then you must show some expertise on the topic.

Understand that some words are trigger words that should be avoided. Instead of talking about how hard it is to get “opioids” or “narcotics,” say patients need better access to “pain medication.” They are all descriptors of the same thing, but have very different meanings and connotations.

It takes a lot of courage to share health topics and challenges we’ve been through. Many advocates, including myself, are ridiculed and shamed. PNN had a great column on this last month, “Stop Shaming Pain by Mia Maysack. As Mia explained, you may encounter negativity even within our own pain community.

Your story should take others on the journey you’ve been on. Think about how you want your audience to feel and what your end goal for them will be. Being yourself, being vulnerable, and sharing your story are powerful ways to engage the public and create change.

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.

The 7 Golden Rules of Opioid Prescribing for Patients

By Jeffrey Grolig, MD, JD, Guest Columnist  

“Don’t do it!” is the advice often given to brand new physicians about whether to specialize in pain medicine. Increasing numbers of doctors are being fined, disciplined or arrested due to scrutiny caused by the nation’s opioid crisis. Every single opioid prescription, even the mildest painkiller, is being tracked, and prescription drug database searches tell the DEA and state board investigators who to watch.  

The unfortunate innocent victims of this crisis have been those legitimate patients who suffer in chronic pain, with up to 100 million in the United States alone. Each time a physician or pharmacy is attacked, thousands of pain patients must pay the price.

A pharmacy in my northern California town recently closed after the owner was charged with 200 counts of failing to properly keep records. Each count carries a $20,000 fine.

A local physician’s license was restricted for failure to warn in writing about the risks of combining sleeping pills with opioids. This family physician had already spent $56,000 in legal fees for previous documentation lapses.

A pulmonary specialist with English as his second language was arrested for prescribing codeine-containing cough syrup to four undercover DEA agents posing as patients. He is facing 20 years in prison and $2 million in fines.   

bigstock--157700663.jpg

I still accept pain patients, but my background as an attorney compels me to use “universal precautions,” something I advise every physician who prescribes opioids to do. This boils down to following what I call “The 7 Golden Rules of Opioid Prescribing.” If you, as the patient, understand that your doctor must follow these 7 golden rules, it will make it much easier for you to obtain excellent pain management, including opioids.  

I developed the 7 golden rules by analyzing the most common documentation lapses of doctors who were disciplined or prosecuted. I included them when I wrote the “Physician Primer: Prescribe Like a Lawyer” to empower doctors to think and practice like a lawyer and not lose their careers over simple documentation errors.

If you write a cover letter like the one below to your current or prospective physician, touching on each and every one of these 7 golden rules, your pain control will vastly improve, I promise. 

Dear Doctor,

#1 I have a legitimate medical reason for needing opioids. My medical diagnosis is… (be specific: examples include diabetic neuropathy, failed spine surgery, spinal stenosis, CRPS, etc.). Attached is my MRI report (or EMG, CT, X-ray, Bone Scan, lab test, etc.) proving this.  

#2 I am not now, nor have I ever been addicted to prescription medication, illegal drugs or alcohol.   

#3 I have no depression, psychosis or bipolar disorder.  

#4 I understand all the risks of opioids and related medications, as well as my options for all non-opioid alternative treatments.  

#5 I am not taking benzodiazepines and drinking alcohol.  

#6 I have attached my last 12 months of medical records (not applicable if you have been with the same physician for one year).  

#7 These records reflect that I am an honest, compliant and responsible patient.  

Respectfully,  

Pain Patient

If you do not meet these criteria, it means you are in a higher risk category and would be better managed at a university medical center or a teaching hospital. To my knowledge, the DEA or state medical board has never raided a teaching hospital or university medical center. 

The best way a patient can signal to me they are responsible and low risk is to write a letter covering each of the 7 golden rules, attached to one year’s worth of medical records. This essentially does my work for me, and it makes it easy for me to decide whether or not to accept the patient.

If your doctor still won’t budge, hand him my free “Primer Flyer,” a pamphlet that explains risk management, that’s available on my website: ThePhysicianPrimer.com.

If all else fails, have him watch my YouTube video on The 7 Golden Rules of Opioid Prescribing for Doctors. 

JEFF.tie.jpg

Jeffrey W. Grolig, MD, JD, is a board-certified specialist in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He has taught at UC Davis Medical Center in both the departments of Family Practice and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Dr. Grolig has formerly worked as a licensed attorney and has authored 6 books.

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.

Scrambler Therapy Helped My Daughter Walk Again

By Reggie Greening, Guest Columnist

Beginning in August 2017, my daughter Amanda began having severe pain in her left foot after spraining her ankle. She was 20 years old at the time and described the pain as feeling as though her bones were being crushed by a red-hot anvil.

Over the next few months, Amanda started having more and more symptoms. It began with sharp pain, then discoloration, and severe swelling set in. This was about the time when she stopped being able to walk and had to be put on opioid medication in an attempt to manage the pain.

The bone crushing sensation began around the end of September, followed closely by burning pain. Amanda was still unable to walk and was taking opioids every four to six hours like clockwork. No one could figure out what was wrong or how to manage the pain other than with opioids.

thumbnail.jpg

While attempting to get a diagnosis, Amanda went through many rounds of testing. She had multiple x-rays, two MRIs (one with contrast dye injected intravenously), a three-phase bone scan, a nerve conductivity test, and two phases of bloodwork examined. She also went to a plethora of doctors, including a podiatrist, orthopedist, rheumatologist, dermatologist, physical therapists, homeopathic physician, chiropractor, pain management doctor, and a general medicine doctor.

scrambler.jpg

The podiatrist and one of her physical therapists suspected Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), and her podiatrist was the one who eventually determined the diagnosis of CRPS on February 16, 2018.

This spurred my research to find a more sustainable treatment option for Amanda. I spent hours searching online before discovering Scrambler Therapy.

I found a physician in New Jersey who posted videos on YouTube about Scrambler Therapy (also known as Calmare Pain Relief Therapy) and its benefits for those suffering with CRPS and other chronic nerve conditions.

We live in Louisiana, so I looked for a doctor who had a Scrambler Therapy machine closer to our home state. I eventually found a doctor in Dallas who has a machine in his office.

Amanda’s first round of treatment was administered by an osteopathic doctor in March 2018. After the fourth consecutive day of treatment, she was able to walk with the aid of crutches for the first time in seven months. The next day, after her fifth treatment, Amanda was able to walk independently. By the end of her initial round of treatment, she was entirely off opioids and NSAID pain relievers.

Our local TV station did a story about Amanda’s recovery.

Right now, the Scrambler treatment is not covered by insurance and payment for it adds up rather quickly. I am trying to get this therapy more widely acknowledged and known about so that it may become an option for others suffering with chronic neuropathic pain.

I have seen the benefits of Scrambler Therapy firsthand in my daughter. At the time of this writing, Amanda has been off opioids for two months and has been able to maintain the benefits of the initial treatment through booster treatments as needed.

Scrambler Therapy has the potential to help not just those suffering from CRPS (for whom pain relief often seems distant and hopeless), but also for those suffering from other neuropathic pain conditions.

standing+2.jpg

The Greening family lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.

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.

A Pained Life: My New Year’s Resolution

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

I am visiting at my sister's house. This was 38 years ago, but I still remember it and feel the hurt and pain as though it was yesterday.

My 12-year old nephew looks down at my penny loafers. Pointing to the penny in each shoe, he asks, “Are you wearing them to let everyone know how poor you are?"

That idea could only have come from his mother. This was a few years after the trigeminal neuralgia pain started, which disabled me and left me virtually housebound.

Unable to work and having no savings on which to rely (I was 26 at the time), I had to do something I never could have imagined. I went on public assistance. I was embarrassed and humiliated asking for that kind of help. That my family saw it as a black mark only made it that much worse.

In a way though, it was a badge of honor.  Not because I went to the state for help with food stamps and medical assistance, but because I chose to do what I needed to do.

resolutions-3889989_640.jpg

The emotional cost to keep control and be as independent as possible -- in spite of the pain and the disability -- was enormous.  But I did it anyway.

What a good lesson that would have been for my nephew. Aunt Carol had a choice: Go back home and live with her parents (which would have been a calamity for all of us and a loss of my independence), or do what she needed to do to stay in control of her life even though it was very difficult. And she bravely chose the latter.

Instead the lesson learned was: Aunt Carol is poor and we should look down on her.

How many times have we had awful things said to us by family, coworkers, friends and people we turned to for help, only to be held in scorn, derision or plain indifference? And yet we held their “truths” as truths to be held dear.

I remember an Oprah Winfrey show from many years ago. Her admonition was as true then as it is now. Hold onto anger against another and who does it hurt?

They will forget what they said and the anger, nastiness and humiliation they showed us; while we hold onto the hurt and pain their words and behaviors caused.

So, at the end of the day, the one that stays hurt is not them, but us.

It's a new year. My resolution is to let go of all the hurt and pain that others have sent my way. It took me almost 38 years to realize I needed to make this change in my thinking. But, as they say, better late than never.

Carol Levy250.jpg

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

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.

How Chronic Pain Led Me to Illegal Drugs

(Editor's note: This column was written by someone I've known for several years and consider a friend. The author is intelligent, college educated and works full time. They also have a progressive and incurable chronic pain condition. Like a growing number of pain patients who are undertreated or have lost access to pain care, my friend has turned to illegal drugs for pain relief. For obvious reasons, we are not disclosing the author's name.) 

For me, it started with borrowing a couple hydrocodone pills from my uncle, who’d just had surgery and didn’t finish his prescription.  

Technically illegal? Yes. Illegal illegal? Not really. That’s what I told myself.

I run out of pain pills early every month — because they are prescribed to take one every six hours and only last about three. So I was happy to have a few more to get through those last few days before my refill.  

I always need more though, because the pain is always there. So I started to swap pills with my cousin, who also has chronic pain.  “Here, take 10 of mine today,” I’d offer.  

Then a few days later, I’d go back with, “Okay, now I need to borrow some pills from you. Maybe just five to get me through until my next refill?”  

I know she would never consider those drug deals. She would never consider herself a dealer. She goes to church for goodness sake. 

Eventually, I started to pay a little cash for 5mg pills from a friend of a friend, because it seems only fair to give him something in return.

I guess that’s about as “drug deal” as drug deals get. Here is money for you in exchange for drugs for me. There’s no way to really argue that.   

But it still didn’t feel like a drug deal. He’s doing me a favor, so I’m doing him a favor. We’re working professionals. We’re not meeting in a dark alley. Nobody has a gun on them. We’re just helping each other.

desktop-3170198_640.jpg

Then I started buying marijuana to see if it would help with the pain.  I felt like marijuana was easier to get than my monthly pain pill prescription. And as long as I had the money, I could get as much as I wanted.  

I bought it from an old high school friend, who has a quiet house in the country and always invites me over for dinner. It felt more like buying homemade jewelry than buying homemade drugs. And she’d send me home with marijuana edibles that didn’t seem all that different than any other muffins my friends would bake for me.  

Recreational marijuana isn’t legal where I live, but it is in a lot of other places, so it’s still easy to justify this one to myself. My state is just a little behind. We’ll catch up. And soon buying an eighth won’t be much different than buying a pack of cigarettes.  

The marijuana doesn’t help me much other than putting me to sleep, so I hardly ever buy it. But if it did work — if it helped anywhere close to the way hydrocodone does — I would become a regular customer.  

Since I didn’t like it or use that much, I ended up selling some leftover marijuana to a friend’s uncle. That’s about when I officially became a dealer myself, I suppose.  

And now, I’m regularly buying extra hydrocodone from the local drug dealer. I meet up with him in the alley behind his apartment. He does not make drug dealing look glamorous. He never has enough money for his phone bill, he always needs a ride, and I’m pretty sure he uses the money I give him to buy heroin.  

I tell myself that most people would do what I was doing if they were enduring the kind of daily, debilitating chronic pain that I have. It’s either this or suicide.  

I try to get my doctor to increase my prescription and hold my breath every time they drug test me. So far, I’ve always passed. And so far, my prescription has yet to last me until the end of the month.  

All these illegal drugs get expensive. $10 for one 10mg hydrocodone. You can whip through $300 a week easily. Hydrocodone is more expensive than heroin and even harder to get.  

Sometimes I wonder if I should just take the leap and buy $20 worth of heroin, which would be more potent than $400 worth of hydrocodone pills. I know where I can get it now, thanks to my new connections to the local dealer.  

But so far, I’ve resisted. Not worth the possible side effects. Not worth the hassle. And not worth the potential legal issues. If I buy hydrocodone, I can slip them into one of my pill bottles with a legitimate label and the cops would have a hard time proving they weren’t mine. Heroin is a little more difficult to hide. 

I know some heroin users and they aren’t like the ones in the movies. They aren’t shooting up in dark alleys. They’re doing it in the morning to combat chronic pain. They’re doing it so they can go to work. They’re doing it because their legitimate doctor cut them off. They’re doing it so they can live their lives.  

And that’s what I'm doing, too. I bought 10 hydrocodone this morning, because I needed something to get me through the work day. Without opioid pain medication, I wouldn’t even be able to check my emails.  

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that when you’re in pain, you’ll do anything to make it stop. And as long as the only way to make it stop comes down to buying illegal drugs or killing myself, I’ll keep choosing illegal drugs — and pray that it doesn’t lead to me accidentally killing myself.  

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.

Stop Shaming Pain

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

I've encountered and witnessed shaming several times in the pain community. It’s as if there was a contest to compare one pain to another.

I once shared a personal experience online about a specific treatment option and got ripped apart by people who disagreed.

Then came a debate pertaining to how to properly label my specific head pain. Due to the fact I have cluster headaches, yet also live in a constant state of migraine, I've used the term “migraine clusters.” That caused offense and was deemed incorrect. No one debating me came up with a proper label for my never-ending pain, so I'm still trying to figure that one out.

There are also questionable looks and inquiries about my health, because I don't have a wheelchair, visible cast or a gushing wound.

I've also encountered others describing their ailments, only to cut themselves off by saying, “Oh, but it's nothing like what you endure!"

Our experiences don’t have to be the same for them to be valid. That's a mind frame the world as a whole could do well to adopt.

There have been times I've partied in my own pity for far too long, but I've since learned that serves no positive or productive purpose past a certain point. Visit those feelings and then send them on their way. Don't allow them to unpack and live in your brain. I'm not preaching, this is just as much a reminder to myself as anyone else.

woman-2696408_640.jpg

We as human beings have all been through something that has changed us. A large portion of my life has been dedicated to the medical field. Nothing gave me a rush quite like having a full floor of patients that were well taken care of.  I used my career for a long time as a means of distraction from my own pain, because how couldn’t one get over themselves while constantly surrounded by people who have it much worse than you?

Newsflash to us all:  Whether in a hospital or walking around a park, there’s no possible way to know what someone is going through, feeling or what their circumstances have been up until the point your paths might cross.

We are all faced with hardships, some more than others, but pain is pain. Each individual is at a different place in their journey and each personal experience is unique.  This is a remarkable thing, because it provides a golden opportunity for us to learn from one another -- as opposed to having a ridiculous and unnecessary divide as we cater to the “I am offended” epidemic our world seems to be inching closer to by the day.

As an advocate and a person, my intent is never to cause insult. However, I am also not afraid to use my voice in an effort to get important conversations started. 

Having a difference of opinion is acceptable, but disrespect or tearing one another down is absolutely not.  Could we all at least agree that there's enough suffering already happening in our lives? Why contribute to it with each other? 

img1539183317715.jpg

Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

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.

Puppy Medicine

By Jennifer Hochgesang, Guest Columnist  

I was miserable. My trigeminal neuralgia pain from multiple sclerosis was still uncontrolled, leaving me mostly housebound. I had also just been diagnosed with vestibular migraines, which cause vertigo. Sometimes the vertigo was so extreme I was unable to walk, the world moving like a drunken carnival ride that never stopped even when my eyes were closed.  

And while the trigeminal neuralgia (TN) was on the right side of my mouth, I had just gotten ulcers out of nowhere on the left side. Anytime I drank something I felt a blind searing pain that took minutes to subside.

I was just barely pushing through, not sure how much more I could take. But I had an appointment to see a puppy at a nearby animal shelter.

I have had dogs all my life. Each one has been a part of the family and amazing creatures: loving, smart, playful and giving. My last dog, Aequoris, passed away two years ago and her sister Zola a little before that. I needed time before getting another dog. But as I went through this year in the worst pain of my life, I started to slowly think about getting a dog again.

But I had many questions to ask myself: Was I well enough to care for a dog? Could I afford a vet? Would the dog get enough exercise? Did I have help for the times I was too sick to care for it? Were there walking services in my area or boarding services if I had to go to the hospital? Would pet insurance cover those situations? Would my family members want a dog and be willing to help?

Even as I answered all those questions on the way to the shelter, I almost cancelled. I just felt so physically awful and it was hard to think of enjoying a puppy.   

When we got there, they put us in a small room so we could meet the puppy and get to know her a little. She was an 11-week old rescue from a litter of five. They said she was a Spaniel mix, but really they had no idea what breed she was.

image1.jpeg

When they brought her in, my first thought was that she was pretty funny looking. Then she actually ran up to me and kissed me right on the left side of my mouth, the one that doesn’t have my TN. It was like she knew! I couldn’t believe it!

I held her and smelled that sweet puppy smell. She wasn’t funny looking after all. She was beautiful. She had dots of brown over her eyes, silky black fur down her back, and fawn-like legs with spots everywhere.

We played and I fell in love within seconds. I watched her play, moving like a little infant excited with the world. I laughed as she tried to catch a ball and fell, and was so moved when she came to me for comfort.

Suddenly I realized I wasn’t in as much pain! Holding her, rubbing her soft fur and watching her jump around just did something for me – like it was medicinal. She was helping me. I knew at that moment she would bring that gift to me and in return I would do whatever I could to make sure she was cared for: vet visits, exercise, training and love. I named her Sasha: helper of womankind.

Sasha is now almost six months old. She is crazy smart and learned sit, down, and up in the air the first day. I have also started working with a trainer so she doesn’t touch the right side of my face and set off a TN attack.

I can have Sasha off leash in the backyard and throw the ball for her to catch with my 7-year-old daughter, who thankfully runs like crazy with her.

But she still rings the bell to go outside seven times an hour and tries to eat my socks no matter how many times I say no. She grabs tissues and runs so fast, dodging furniture and ducking under and over until you want to pull your hair out.

But then you leave the room for one second and come back to find her butt wiggling, tail thumping on the floor, and plaintively whinnying, “I’m so happy to see you. I missed you so much.”

Sasha has the sweetest face and when she lays next to you with her head curled in your lap letting you pet her, looking up at you -- it’s just pure love.

image3.jpeg

Is it a coincidence that in the past five weeks I’ve finally found the food triggers for my trigeminal neuralgia? I’ve stopped eating dairy, citrus, chocolate, caffeine and sugar. My pain has gone down so much. It’s like night and day since I got Sasha. I still need to work with a nutritionist to make sure I’m eating the right foods, but for now this is working for me.

Sasha is still a baby so I haven’t expected her to do much more than be a cute furball. But one day while I was working on my iPad, she came and positioned herself right in my lap. I had to move her over a little so I could work. She still stuck like glue to the left side of my body with her head on my leg or arm throughout the day. I thought she was just tired.

Then slowly my TN pain began to increase, until I had a really awful volley of attacks every few minutes. Sasha moved closer and closer to my face as the pain got worse. During one brutal attack she kissed me on the left side and I was so thankful. She actually understood I was in pain and where it was. She knew when it was getting worse. And all she wanted was to heal and comfort me.  

As I write this, Sasha is sitting right here next to me chewing on a rawhide pretzel. She brought seven toys up on the couch in case she gets bored with the pretzel and wants me to throw something. I take a break from writing to pet her and sometimes she will turn over and give me her belly to rub. Soon she’s going to get up and ring that bell to go outside in the light snow.

She is just the most beautiful thing.

raw.jpg

Jennifer Hochgesang lives in Illinois. Jennifer has multiple sclerosis, trigeminal neuralgia and vestibular migraines.

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.

Cannabis Gave Me Hope in My Darkest Hour

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

I've lived most of my life with an ongoing migraine -- often trapped in a hazy brain fog induced by prescription medication.  

Suggestions of all kinds of alternatives have been made to me, including cannabis. But it wasn't until my very first headache cluster – which lasted 54 straight days -- that I gave in and the medicinal use of this miracle drug saved my life.

At that point, I hadn't slept in an inhumane amount of time, wasn't able to work, participate in life, or keep food and drink down. Then a friend literally begged me to "take a hit."

Call me a square, but I didn’t take a sip of alcohol until my 21st birthday and had never used marijuana or had the desire to.  What did I have to lose?

I had tried everything else. My arms were still bruised from IV's at the ER. So with absolutely no more craps to give, I lit up.  And almost instantaneously felt better.

I spent a lot of time battling shame for breaking the law and the stigma of marijuana use. But I've evolved to accept my truth. Marijuana is not a gateway drug, unless a person makes the choice to escalate their substance use. No treatment option is meant to be approached as a cure, nor should it be a crutch.   

Marijuana can be ingested in multiple ways, there are countless strains and products without the THC itself -- although that's the key element that eases my ailments. It helps me combat nausea, cultivate an appetite, gives a slight boost in morale, and get quality rest.  

bigstock-Medical-marijuana-and-pipe-46731607.jpg

Cannabis works for me about half the time.  But that goes deeper than a glass half empty or half full.  It's a matter of having a resemblance of a life or not.   

There have been no overdoses or deaths reported from this natural plant. Over two dozen states, as well as our nation's capital, have adapted to the reality that it can be used as medicine.  It has saved and made A LOT of money, lowered criminal activity and rescued many others aside from myself.  

If someone had told me one day I'd be writing about marijuana for the world to see, I wouldn't have believed them.  But my public, unapologetic declaration is that cannabis provided a glimmer of hope during my darkest hour.  I share this not to promote it or advise anyone else, but because I want to raise awareness and demonstrate the courage to step out of your comfort zone.   

I've wounded relationships over this stuff, because not everyone can wrap their minds around it. I've also gotten in a bite sized amount of trouble over it -- munchie pun fully intended. It’s not for everyone but there are good reasons ill patients are being granted access to it. There’s research to support marijuana being helpful in attacking the opioid crisis, both for those struggling with addiction as well as those who are prescription dependent.    

How a person chooses to conduct themselves is a matter of free will. It has nothing to do with whether a CBD oil extract or pot brownie helps them get out of bed in the morning. It’s a matter of self-accountability and self-care. Cannabis saved my life.  

img1539183317715.jpg

Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

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.

Don’t Put All Chronic Pain Patients in the Same Basket

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

I recently read an article in KevinMD. The author, a family doctor in Maine, wrote about the need for more behavioral (mental) health treatment in primary care settings:

“We are doing that with chronic pain. Any patient who needs ongoing pain medication is required to attend four individual sessions to learn about what pain is, how the brain is the center of the pain experience, and how our pain experience can be altered by internal and external factors. We don’t use ‘pain scales’ for the simple reason that pain is never objective.”

As I read that, my blood boiled. I am sick of this concept that those of us with chronic pain need to be educated on how pain works, how our brains work, and how our pain can be mediated or controlled by mental health therapy.

Does a patient with cancer or arthritis need to be “educated” on how their brain works? Are they taught that the brain is the center of their health problems? Are they instructed with mumbo-jumbo about how their conditions can be “altered by internal and external factors”?

Or are they told what treatments are available for cancer or arthritis and how to deal with the symptoms?

It is not that I think education is unnecessary. The more we know and can understand about how our pain works, the better. It is important for patients with all diseases, not just ours, to know what we can and cannot do, what will make it worse, and what might help make it better.

bigstock-Doctor-6061872.jpg

But, once again, chronic pain patients are treated differently.  We can assist in our treatment only if we learn to change how we think and react to the symptoms.  

After I took a few deep breaths I calmed down. And gave it some further thought.

It occurs to me that the medical community often puts chronic pain conditions into one basket. But chronic back pain is not the same as pain from CRPS or trigeminal neuralgia. And rheumatoid arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are not on the same level physiologically or psychologically as tension headaches.

It’s as though all cancers were considered as one. As though basal cell carcinoma - the least dangerous of cancers -- requires chemotherapy and radiation just like breast or lung cancer.

Many of us already have to fight not being accepted or believed by families, friends and colleagues. I wonder if it is time to put some of that energy into working with medical providers so they will accept that not all pain is the same.  And our needs should be treated as any other chronic medical condition.

Carol Levy250.jpg

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

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.

My Therapist Told Me to Write This Column

By Crystal Lindell, PNN Columnist

My therapist said I should write a column about how to travel while sick and I would love to do that, but I haven’t figure it out yet.

I get through work trips by drowning myself in dry shampoo, sleeping on conference tables between meetings, eating coffee for every meal, and using pain medication that wears off too fast — all while getting super behind on emails. 

My therapist said I should write a column about how to manage your health while maintaining a full-time job. Who the hell knows how to do this?

I work at home, which is a great gig if you can get it, but most people can’t.

Actually, I do have a life tip: If you have to work while sick, work at home. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

team-2894828_640.jpg

I spend my work days in my pajamas under a soft red blanket on the couch. I take pain pills when I hit my 3 pm slump, and I tell my coworkers entirely too many details about my health, while also avoiding using scooters at conferences so that I can look cool. I call in sick too much and not enough. And I am always tired.

My therapist also said I should write a column about how to live with chronic pain. Yeah, okay. I’ll get right on that.

For now, my life tips include: Saying “yes” every single time your doctor offers you pain pills; throwing away every cute pair of heels you own because they just aren’t worth it; and using filters if you ever have to video chat someone.

Every day of my life is a struggle. Every flipping day. I tried working out recently and fractured my foot, and then I tore my rotator cuff by using crutches. Now my foot is still messed up, and I just limp around on it while rubbing my shoulder. Sexy.

I skip physical therapy appointments because they’re too expensive, I’m constantly crash dieting and then gaining the weight back, and I never wear my shoulder sling or my orthopedic boot.

I’m obviously great at this.

I spend all my money on co-pays, Taco Bell, and kratom. I have no long-term career plan that goes anything beyond, “Get disability — eventually.” And I literally go off my antidepressants every few weeks because I think I don’t need them because I’m feeling better. This is a lie. I need them.

I wish I was wise and cute and Pinterest worthy. I’m not. I’m barely Walmart trip worthy most days. I never get enough sleep, I cry entirely too much, and there is literally a dented space on the couch from where I spend all my time.

So if anyone has figured all this out, let me know. You should probably write a column about it.

IMG_1336.JPG

Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She eats too much Taco Bell, drinks too much espresso, and spends too much time looking for the perfect pink lipstick. She has hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.  Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

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.

The Overdose Crisis Is Not Just About Rx Opioids

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The CDC last week released its latest report on drug overdoses in 2017.  The death toll was the highest recorded, with over 70,000 Americans dying from drug poisoning. Deaths involving illicit fentanyl and other black market synthetic opioids surged 45 percent, while deaths involving opioid pain medication remained unchanged.

Although the death toll for 2018 may be a bit lower, it is premature to declare as the Washington Post did that “the opioid epidemic may be receding.”

Instead, the crisis is evolving.

“Fentanyl deaths are up, a 45 percent increase; that is not a success,” Dan Ciccarone, PhD, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times. “We have a heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic that is out of control and needs to be addressed.”

The available data for 2018 supports this. There have been over 1,500 overdoses in Massachusetts so far this year and the details of those deaths are sobering. Fentanyl was present in 90 percent of toxicology reports during the second quarter of 2018, a three-fold increase since 2014. Prescription drugs of any form were found in only 17 percent of reports.

Public health data from Connecticut is similar. Illicit opioids were found in nearly 80 percent of the 867 people who died of an unintentional opioid overdose in 2016.

addiction.jpg

Current data is also showing that drugs like methamphetamine are having a significant impact on overdose rates. Kaiser Health News reports that amphetamine related hospitalizations – mostly involving meth – are surging and that more than 10,000 people died of meth-related drug overdoses last year.

The opioid overdose crisis is no longer primarily about prescription opioids used medically, or even exclusively about opioids. And studies of long-term opioid therapy are not showing increasing rates of overdose.

Medscape reported on a recent study that found cancer patients had a much lower risk of dying from an opioid overdose than the general population. The study looked at opioid deaths from 2006 through 2016, a period that saw rapidly rising overdose rates. Opioid death rates jumped from 5.33 to 8.97 per 100,000 people in the general population during that period, but among cancer patients, opioid deaths rose from 0.52 to 0.66 per 100,000.

Another recent study found that the use of opioids in treating pain from sickle cell disease was “safe” and rarely results in overdoses  

“What our study uniquely shows is that, using this large nationwide database, that deaths in a hospital setting related to opioid toxicity or overdose almost never happen among those with sickle cell disease," Oladimeji Akinola Akinboro, MBBS, of Boston University School of Medicine told Medpage. "This suggests that current patterns of opioid use in this population is safe, assuming we continue the same risk-mitigation strategies."

In other words, long-term pain management in disorders like cancer and sickle cell disease is not associated with increased rates of fatal overdose. Both of these studies have important limitations, in particular the possibility that some overdose deaths went uncounted. But the low rates of overdose in these groups suggests that with careful patient screening and monitoring, opioids can be used safely.

More can and should be done. Opioids are being prescribed more cautiously to children and teens. This is important, in light of a new JAMA study on wisdom tooth extraction, which found that over 5% of young people who had their wisdom teeth removed and received opioids for pain control went on to receive an opioid abuse-related diagnosis.

The overdose crisis is fast evolving into a poly-drug substance use problem. Addiction expert Michael Botticelli, the former director of National Drug Control Policy, told WBUR that a better understanding is needed of why people use drugs, not just which drugs they use.

"The data are pretty clear that we have a drug use epidemic and a drug overdose epidemic,” he said. “I think we have to really be careful that our strategies speak to all of those issues.”

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.

10 Ways to Avoid Depression Over the Holidays

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

Do you celebrate the holidays or do you secretly dread them? For some of us, the period between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day can be the most depressing time of the year.

The first reason is that we are exposed to less sunlight during the winter. We need light to maintain our physical, mental and emotional health. There are also societal pressures that can weigh heavily on pain patients, such as not being able to participate in holiday activities. The holidays can make us depressed, financially strained, anxiety ridden, and harder to be around.

Here are some early warning signs of depression:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions

  • Fatigue and decreased energy

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and/or helplessness

  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping

  • Irritability, restlessness

  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex

  • Overeating or appetite loss

  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

  • Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings

  • Thoughts of suicide or a suicide attempt

Take this seriously, as depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately.

Depression can cause you to isolate yourself from others, decreasing your mobility and increasing drug dependence. A cycle begins where depression causes and intensifies the pain and stress on your body.

It can be hard to face the emotional aspects of pain, but it is important to look at the signs and be aware of them. Remember, pain causes depression, not the other way around! 

stress-2902537_640.jpg

Depression can keep you from taking care of yourself. You cannot afford to let yourself fall into dark dreary moods. Be sure, no matter how you are feeling, that you are following the goals set for your care, such as taking the correct dose of medication at the correct time of each day.

It may take a little effort to keep healthy habits when you are depressed. Here are 10 tips fellow pain patients, friends with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and I have used over the years.  

  1. Use artificial light sources. The body’s internal biological clock can get really out of sync during the winter season. Bright light therapy becomes an important tool.

  2. Try something new, such as a craft or hobby.

  3. Progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis and meditation can reduce stress and pain levels

  4. Stop doing things you don’t enjoy and do things you like, such as listening to music or aroma therapy.

  5. Physical therapy and exercise can break the cycle of pain and help relieve depression

  6. Make a list of life’s blessings, reminding yourself what you have accomplished in life. Even if you can’t do it now, you could once and no one can take that from you.

  7. Cognitive and behavioral therapies teach pain patients how to avoid negative and discouraging thoughts.

  8. Change everyday routines to ward off physical and emotional suffering

  9. Clean out or organize an area of the house. It could be as simple as clearing a bedside table or filing your medical records. Getting organized in one area of your life can help you manage other areas more successfully.

  10. Seek professional help if you start feeling overwhelmed. Dealing with chronic pain can slow recovery from depression. Specialists should treat both problems together.  

Getting your depression under control will help you focus on managing your health. As you learn to let go of anxiety and stress, it will help lower pain levels and make the holidays more enjoyable.  

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.

Living in the Real World of Pain Care

By Ann Marie Gaudon, PNN Columnist

For years now, chronic pain patients in Canada and elsewhere have heard nothing but disingenuous and downright nonsensical information about opioid medication.

It’s beginning to feel like a cheese grater scraping on my very real nerves. No facts or just wrong facts from the government, regulators and the media. Are all of these players living in an alternate reality?

Rewind back to June 2, when pain patient and advocate Paul arranged a meeting between several physicians and pain patients. You can find out the whole story, as Paul told it to me, on this YouTube video. The sole doctor attending the meeting had one objective: To present (via PowerPoint no less) how “responsible and non-biased” leaders and physicians are when it comes to pain patients.

Indeed, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario put out “A Message to Patients Living with Chronic Non-Cancer Pain.” It tells us it is never appropriate to abandon a patient on long-term opioid therapy or abruptly cut off or threaten to cut off a patient’s medication” and that “patients taking prescribed opioids should not be stigmatized.”

In its guideline for accepting new patients, the college also tells us that “physicians must accept new patients in a manner that is fair, transparent and respectful…”

However, doctors live in their own reality, far apart from their college. In the real world of pain care where I reside, doctors everywhere and every day: 

  • Refuse to prescribe opioid medication for their patients

  • Abandon pain patients altogether because they need opioid medication

  • Drastically taper opioid medication against their patients’ wills and to the detriment of their health and quality of life

  • Stigmatize and discriminate against patients, who are labeled as addicted and in need of treatment

  • Refuse to accept new pain patients if they need opioid medication 

This picture of a doctor's window in Ontario reflects that reality:

thumbnail.jpg

What we experience in the real world doesn’t have any relation to what we are being told. I recently listened to a fascinating interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Christopher Hedges, who spoke about a “post-truth phenomena.”

“The facts don’t matter, we’re bombarded with lies…. Once facts are interchangeable with opinions, then it becomes an Alice in Wonderland kind of experience where nothing makes sense,” said Hedges

We are now living that experience, complete with mythology. The myth about pain patients is that they are cared for by an ethical medical establishment according to their own unique needs, and also recognized as valuable citizens deserving of human rights by a responsible government.

Mythologies were created by ancient peoples trying to make sense of the world. If you live in an alternate reality, you would need to create these narratives so that your distorted reality made sense to you.

For those of us whose bodies are pained and whose minds remain firmly planted on this earth, the myths about opioids are misrepresentations at best, pure hypocrisy and deceit at worst.

Sometimes peoples of the past got it wrong, but sometimes they got it right. Seventeenth century philosophers used the fundamental nature of knowledge and their reality to make sense of the world. Voltaire cautioned us not to take the myths too seriously.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

headshotJuly2018circle.jpg

Ann Marie Gaudon is a registered social worker and psychotherapist in the Waterloo region of Ontario, Canada with a specialty in chronic pain management.  She has been a chronic pain patient for 33 years and works part-time as her health allows. For more information about Ann Marie's counseling services, visit 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.

Recall of High Dose Opioids Proposed in Canada

Marvin Ross, Guest Columnist

A citizen’s petition filed last year by Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) and other anti-opioid activists tried to get the FDA to ban high-dose opioid medications. Although the FDA has yet to decide on the petition’s merits, the very same proposal is now being made in Canada in an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

Dr. David Juurlink, a Toronto physician and board member of PROP, penned the editorial with Matthew Herder, a lawyer from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They claim that high dose pills – such as those containing 100mg of morphine or 80mg of oxycodone -- are too risky and should be pulled off the market.

"There is little sign that the (opioid) crisis is abating in Canada," they wrote. "Ministerial recall of the most hazardous opioid formulations is a powerful regulatory tool that should be deployed to address one aspect of the crisis: the excessive prescribing of opioids for chronic pain."

Juurlink and Herder point to Vanessa's Law, which empowers the Canadian Minister of Health to recall drugs from the marketplace when they pose “a serious or imminent risk of injury to health.”

Vanessa's Law was introduced into Parliament in 2014 by Trevor Young, a government member, when his 15-year-old daughter tragically died from heart failure after taking a stomach drug called Prepulsid (Cisapride). That same year, Health Canada removed the drug, as did the EU and the UK. It is only available in the U.S. under special conditions.

Health Canada has always had the power to pull drugs off the market and issue safety alerts. As for Vanessa’s Law, Health Canada told me it “has not encountered a situation where it has been necessary to use its authority to order a mandatory recall.”

bigstock-man-taking-medication-13886486.jpg

Obviously, there have been no valid safety reasons to limit high dose opioid prescriptions or it would have been done by now.

The CMAJ editorial claims that high dose opioids are potentially dangerous and that they increase the risk of accidental overdose, falls, fractures, cognitive impairment, worsening pain, motor vehicle accidents, and dependence. Of the five academic papers cited as evidence, four are authored by Juurlink himself or his research colleague at the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Studies in Toronto. One of their papers was reported by this author in PNN as being erroneous and in need of correction. It was corrected, but it should have been retracted.

When the FDA sought public input into PROP’s petition, it received opposition from hundreds of patients and such groups as the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), the American Medical Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and the American Pain Society. The AAPM said several of the petition’s underlying premises “are either false, misleading or speculative.”

“Perhaps the most serious problem with the petition is its cavalier assumption that in those patients in whom high doses are required, the change would be ‘unlikely to result in a significant inconvenience or hardship.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is undisputed that many end-of-life patients require and benefit from opioid doses that are often quite high,” the AAPM said.

Other critics pointed out that taking high dose pills off the market would result in more lower dose pills being prescribed and stored in medicine cabinets, where they could potentially be stolen or diverted. It also raises the risk of a patient taking too many or too few low dose pills to get pain relief.

Dr. Juurlink has previously claimed that the long-term use of opioids results in an increase in pain called opioid induced hyperalgesia (OIH). He wrote about hyperalgesia in an earlier article in CMAJ, saying pain patients may think opioids are helping them, when they’re not.

“Why might some of these patients not be doing as well as they or their doctors perceive?” Dr. Juurlink asked.

Well, the answer is that Dr. Juurlink knows better. He knows better than the patient and he knows better than their doctor. He knows that they are not doing well. What can anyone say to that level of arrogance?

I did write a reply to his arguments in CMAJ and pointed out that his concept of hyperalgesia is simply a theoretical construct with no solid evidence in the research literature.

It is truly unfortunate and criminal that the response from some “experts” and politicians to the rising deaths we are seeing from overdoses is directed at pain doctors and their patients, when there is little evidence they are the main cause of the opioid problem.

As I pointed out in my last PNN article, the Minister of Health continues to blame the wrong people and is incapable of providing any evidence for her position. The coroner in British Columbia has already put out data on the source of opioids involved in overdose deaths. Fentanyl was involved in 3 out of 4 deaths and its source was illegal, not prescribed.

A very recent investigation by Global News Network in Canada found that the smuggling of illicit fentanyl into Canada via BC is the responsibility of a Chinese gang called the Big Circle Boys. The billions of dollars of profits they make is laundered through casinos in that province and to buy property in Vancouver. The police are aware but simply do not have the resources to counter any of this.

Instead, officials go after doctors and patients. One pain patient I am in contact with just e-mailed me that his doctor continues to reduce his opioids to the point that he is ready to leave this world.

“I can’t understand the thought process of my pain doctor who continues to taper away at my meds,” he wrote.

And neither can I.

Marvin+Ross.jpg

Marvin Ross is a medical writer and publisher in Dundas, Ontario. He has been writing on chronic pain for the past year and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

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.

Taking Control of My Disability Case

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

This stack of papers may not look like much, but it is my medically documented life beginning in the year 2002.

20180710_120104.jpg

I personally highlighted them, so I can confidently report that the words “headache” and “migraine” are mentioned hundreds of times throughout.

I've been in the process of pursuing Social Security disability for about three years, which is not uncommon. Many have abused the system and there's also a high volume of claims being submitted and reviewed every day.

It took me a long time to even get to the point of filing for disability.

What does filing say about me as a person? Will I be judged? They probably won't even believe it. There are so many out there that need and deserve this more than me.

I still have those thoughts from time-to-time, even though my chronic migraines and cluster headaches have impacted every aspect of my life in a negative way – including employment.

I do not take the collection of denial letters I have received personally, as they've got to do what they can to weed out whoever isn't entirely legitimate. I know that I am, so I'll keep fighting.   

In recent months, another denial letter came. They acknowledged I am unwell but still deem me “well enough.” I decide to appeal immediately, as they only give you 60 days to do so. I also hired legal representation to help me through the process.

When I called them to check on the progress of my case, their tone felt dismissive. I would get put on hold before finishing a sentence or receive roundabout answers to basic questions. I’d also be reminded -- as if I wasn't already aware -- that disability court dates are scheduling 23 months from now.

I don't mind waiting, considering the fact I have no choice.  But it seemed as though I was being slow walked on a hamster wheel and not moving forward at all. This week I chose to contact Social Security directly and they informed me that, according to their records, there is no appeal on file for me at this time.

What does this mean, exactly?  In short, my legal representatives have not been covering their responsibilities to me as their client. I've been scraping by with 26 cents to my name while relying on their word, which I've now been convinced means next to nothing. 

I asked a Social Security representative what my next steps should be to take control and clean up this mess. He instructed me to visit their website and file an online appeal, which has since been done. Since I can’t account for where exactly all the paperwork I've been sending to my "help" has been going, I plan to stop in my local Social Security office to hand my stack of medical records directly to them.

We are our own best advocates, but how do I advocate for myself?  This is one way. I am the one who knows and understands the extent of how this debilitation has derailed just about every goal or dream I've set my sights on. But I won’t let that define me. I am more than my illness and won't allow my case to be dismissed.

I'm aware that representing myself may very well set this process back even further, but I've come to the realization that if we want something done right, we've got to make it happen ourselves.

At first, I felt disheartened because this seems like a full-time job in itself. But when others do not hold up their end, I now see this as an opportunity to raise awareness, address policy, educate and ultimately claim ownership of my own life. Now and in the future.

img1539183317715.jpg

Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

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.

Is My Life Worth Anything to Doctors and Politicians?

By Beth Sweet, Guest Columnist

I keep a journal and usually write about my symptoms and medical appointments. But today I vented and afterwards realized this might be something I should share.

I'm doing really bad with writing lately. It's just so hard to find the motivation to do anything. Between pain, exhaustion, migraines and IBS every day, I feel like crap! I'm so sick of feeling like this. I just want to feel like a normal human being again and not wake up every day realizing that isn't going to happen.

Lately I've been wondering if I even have fibromyalgia or if I was misdiagnosed. We have tried so many treatments for it and none of them work. I feel like a guinea pig half the time. Do doctors even know what they are doing?

I've tried over 19 medications and treatments. So far, the only thing that helps is what all the doctors say isn't recommended for fibro and that's oxycodone. I'm in my own body, know what I feel, and what works. But I'm too afraid to ask my doctor for a therapeutic dose instead of a bare minimum dose that only gets me a few hours of relief a day.

All because of this damned opioid epidemic!

They freak out about addicts overdosing on opioid medication, but addicts will find a fix even without prescriptions. What about chronic pain patients who are killing themselves because they can't get treatment for their pain?

I wish the politicians and lawmakers could suffer from chronic pain for a while and get treated like we are. I bet then the laws would change! I don't think they could survive it.

BETH SWEET

BETH SWEET

I'M SICK OF PAIN! Sick of crushing, aching, searing, cramping, stabbing, stiff, radiating, grinding, burning, tingling, constant pain. When I sit, stand, walk or lay in one position for too long. Headaches and migraines over half the month. PAIN ALL THE TIME!

But I can't ask a doctor for what I know works because everyone is in a panic about opioids. I am on the lowest possible dose. I get just enough for 4-6 hours of relief a day! God forbid I have a flare that makes it nearly impossible to move and lasts for days. It's not fair!

I want to go to church.

I want to go to my kids’ events

I want to be able to earn an income and be a functioning member of society

I want to not have my kids feel like they must take care of me. It's supposed to be the other way around!

I want to get well, but that's never going to happen. I must live with the fact that I am going to feel like crap on varying levels for the rest of my life.

Think about that. If someone told you that from this moment until the day you die you are going to be in pain, exhausted and unable to lead a normal life. That we don't know how to cure you or even if there is a cure. We aren't even sure what's wrong with you. We've tried everything and none of it has worked. Maybe it's all in your head.

How would that make you feel? Frustrated? Hopeless? Pissed? Sad?

And what if those same people who told you they don't fully understand your illness will not give you the one drug that gives you relief because "it's not an approved treatment for your diagnosis." They’ve already admitted knowing very little about it anyway!

What if they treated you like a drug addict because you asked for a medication that finally gives you some pain relief?  I have no problem getting medication for my thyroid, insulin resistance, anemia, IBS or any of my other health issues. But God forbid I ask for treatment for chronic pain.

I don't take those meds to get high. I don't even understand how people do, they don't affect me that way. I take them to get some of my life back. Is my life worth anything to these doctors and politicians?  I'm 38 and a hermit because of my pain and health issues. I've been sick for years and getting worse.  

I want to make something clear. I'm not going to kill myself. I have my family to live for. Even when my life feels worthless, I think of them. But not every chronic pain paint has that because this illness causes isolation and hopelessness. And no, we aren't in pain because we are depressed. We are depressed because we are in pain. There is a difference, so please stop giving us antidepressants to use as pain meds!

Stop ignoring chronic pain patients. Some are at the point where they can't take the pain anymore and the doctors that could save their lives are too concerned with the opioid epidemic to help!

I hope to find a doctor someday that thinks my life is worth living.

bigstock-Tell-Us-Your-Story-card-with-c-78557009.jpg

Beth Sweet lives in Michigan.

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.

Scoring Goals With Your Goals

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

When it comes to living with chronic pain and illness, the way we motivate ourselves and achieve goals can change. I know it did for me.

There are two types of goals: mastery and performance. Before I had a chronic illness, I was performance oriented. I was wrapped up in demonstrating my competence and abilities, especially when it came to my job. Suddenly that was not possible anymore. I had to adapt, change and learn how to master by goals if I was going to manage the chronic pain portion of my life. That’s where I am now.

Knowing someone’s goals helps us understand what motivates them and predict if there is a likelihood of achieving and sustaining their goals. It can also help us decide if we have a similar goal that can be worked on together, if we should partner with them or if we should move on to someone else.

In a doctor-patient relationship, if a doctor can’t help you achieve your goals with the tools and resources they have to offer, then it’s probably time to find a new doctor.

Performance oriented goals (also known as ego goals) are characterized by the belief that success is the result of superior ability. Performance oriented individuals seek to outperform others and demonstrate their ability.

When patients are working to complete this type of goal, they’re often concerned about how they will be judged relative to others. An example of this would be a patient who wants their doctor to love them the most and call them their “best” patient. They are competing against other patients in a game with only one winner.

target-1955257_640.jpg

I believe mastery goals will prove to be more effective in the long run. Mastery goals are also known as learning goals. They are goals where the person is focused on learning, mastering tasks, self-improvement and developing new skills. An example of a master-oriented goal would be organizing your medical records.

When a chronic pain patient masters a skill at their own pace and level – not competing with others --- it increases their resilience, quest for knowledge and enjoyment of life. One of my favorite quotes is “Winners don’t always win, but they never give up.” When we become mastery goal setters, we can accomplish more without societal pressures and take our time knowing that we will make mistakes and its okay.

Setting a mastery goal starts with taking a moment to think about what you want to accomplish over the next few weeks or months. Is there something you have been wanting to try? Something that will take you longer than others who are healthier? Are you up for that challenge?

Ask yourself what you want to learn. Then make it a learning goal. You do this by being specific. Don’t just say, “I want to organize my medical records.” Do you want your records in notebooks, on a computer, a USB, or in your patient portals? Do you want to update or correct your records” and send copies to your doctors? Do you want to start from today and only do new records or go back and organize everything?

Remember, your goal should be achievable in a few weeks or months. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure. Decide on a goal that is attainable. What past skills do you have that can help you out? Think through your goal to make sure it is realistic. Are you able to work on multiple goals at the same time or do you need to break this one down further to make it doable? Think about your current abilities and how they will help you achieve your goal.

How will you measure your success? Decide at the start how you will measure your progress. Try to organize five pages of medical records a day or do whatever you can. On some days you’ll accomplish more than others.

Ready to “goal” for it? Share in the comment section below what your goal will be in 2019. Sharing your goal can help you stay motivated. I wish each of you well on your goals and success in accomplishing the activities you set out to accomplish!  

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 FoundationShe 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.

Ignoring the Evidence in Canada

By Marvin Ross, Guest Columnist

For those of us north of the border who are defending against the assault on pain patients, it was very gratifying to see the American Medical Association come out against the “inappropriate use” of the CDC guideline on opioid prescribing.

Sadly, we cannot hope that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) will do the same. The CMA embraced the Canadian guideline – which is modeled after the CDC’s -- and argued for better evidence on the safety and efficacy of prescription opioids.

Sadly, how Canadian officials evaluate evidence is suspect. Jason Busse, the chiropractor who chaired the Canadian guideline, contends that no randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been done on opioids that follow patients for longer than six months. He tweeted that to me after I challenged him on the results of an analysis that concluded that “to dismiss trials as ‘inadequate’ if their observation period is a year or less is inconsistent with current regulatory standards.”

bigstock-New-Pills-Smart-Experienced-P-230554117.jpg

I pointed out that multiple published studies and over 1.6 million patients maintained on doses over 200mg MME (morphine milligram equivalent) disprove his claim opioids don’t work long term.

Busse’s reply was, “Yes - the CDC guideline excluded all trials of less than 1 year duration. The Canadian guideline did not. Nonetheless, there are no RCTs of opioids that follow pts. For more than 6 months.”

He did not reply to my comment that Prozac was approved for use based on trails of only 12 weeks duration and that many patients take anti-depressants for years. It has always seemed strange to me that McMaster University, which led the development of the Canadian guideline, is the home to evidence based medicine. One of the co-ordinators of the guideline is Dr. Gordon Guyatt, who is credited as the one who brought evidence based studies to the world.

The most flagrant avoidance of evidence is by Health Canada, which continues to insist that high rates of opioid prescribing is one of the main causes of the opioid crisis. Ann Marie Gaudon, a columnist for PNN, has been attempting to find out what evidence Health Canada has to make that claim.

Not only have they not responded to her query, but her call to their office at the end of October resulted in one of the most bizarre phone calls ever heard. Syndicated radio show host Roy Green devoted two episodes to what can only be described as a “Who's on First” discussion with a government official.

Health Canada now mandates that every prescription issued for an opioid carry a sticker and a leaflet warning of addiction risks. A total wasted effort. The evidence that prescriptions opioids are a significant part of the problem is lacking.

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network just released a database that disproves claims that prescriptions are a major cause of opioid overdoses. It shows that opioid prescriptions in Ontario have been declining for years, as they have in the United States.  About two-thirds of the opioid prescriptions written in 2015 were for patients over the age of 45 and less than 2 percent were for fentanyl.

Contrast those stats to information put out by this same agency on opioid deaths. Accidental overdoses among those 15 to 44 accounted for nearly 60% of opioid deaths. And the most common opioid involved in overdoses was fentanyl – most of it illicit and obtained on the black market.

It would be very refreshing if governments and regulators in Canada actually looked at their own data before cracking down on prescriptions for legitimate pain sufferers. That may be too much to expect, but one can always hope.

Marvin+Ross.jpg

Marvin Ross is a medical writer and publisher in Dundas, Ontario. He has been writing on chronic pain for the past year and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

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.

Lessons from 'American Overdose' on the Opioid Crisis

By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist

The book “American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts” by Chris McGreal takes a hard look at the opioid crisis. The book focuses on the legal and political side of the crisis, along with a history of Purdue Pharma and OxyContin, and a detailed description of pill mills and rogue pharmacies in Appalachia.

“It is a tragedy forged by the capture of medical policy by corporations and the failure of institutions in their duty to protect Americans,” is how McGreal describes the genesis and evolution of the crisis.

The book highlights the massive collusion and corruption in communities in West Virginia and Kentucky, leading to the Williamson Wellness Center and other pill mills that were protected by law enforcement, ignored by state and federal regulators, and encouraged or exploited by drug manufacturers and distributors.

McGreal also traces the history of Purdue and the Sackler family, and how their efforts to improve pain management led to the creation of the blockbuster drug OxyContin. He explains how Purdue’s marketing claims “proved to be demonstrably false, including an assertion that addiction is rare when opioids are taken under a doctor’s care.”

However, McGreal does not depict Purdue as a lone bad actor. Instead, federal and state dysfunction and disinterest contributed to the crisis. “The FDA wasn’t the only one to drop the ball. A clutch of federal agencies with long names have responsibility for combating drug addiction and overdose,” he wrote. And they all failed.

The failure was both systemic and systematic. As the crisis unfolded, local law enforcement had to contend with “indifference and what they regarded as the political cowardice of the system.” Perhaps more important than the cowardice and corruption was greed, not just corporate greed but also local greed for the money brought in by pill mills: “The businesses did good. You had pharmacies that were doing really good.”

The problem soon extended far beyond Appalachia. Among the earliest and biggest pill mills was American Pain, set up in 2007 near Fort Lauderdale, Florida by twin brothers Chris and Jeff George – neither of whom had medical training.

Opioid addiction also rose across the nation because of cultural factors, writes McGreal. In Utah, “the dominance of the conservative Church of Latter-day Saints appeared to be a cause of addiction, not a deterrent” because of the church’s “toxic perfectionism.”

Government agencies and officials were encouraged to ignore it all. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s office wasn’t interested in pursuing pill mills and the “political leadership within Florida wasn’t much better.”

Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder, and James Comey all helped Purdue, according to McGreal, by delaying investigations of the company as addiction and overdose rates rose rapidly in the 2000’s.

The CDC’s involvement is described as delayed and dysfunctional. "Until 1998 the United States used a classification system lumping heroin, morphine, and prescription opiate deaths together," McGreal points out. Even when CDC researcher Len Paulozzi documented rising trends in overdose deaths, no one paid serious attention until Thomas Frieden, MD, became director. Even then, serious flaws remain in how the CDC reports on overdose deaths.  

Anti-opioid activists Andrew Kolodny, MD, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP), and PROP President Jane Ballantyne, MD, sounded warnings about opioids, but offered little in the way of solutions outside of cutting off prescriptions. Many of their warnings proved to be unfounded, in particular with the opioid analgesic Zohydro. The drug was approved by the FDA amid dire warnings of a major spike in addiction and overdoses, but “there was no great surge of overdoses because of Zohydro.”

“FDA officials don’t like Kolodny. They characterize him as unreasonable and difficult. One described him as a ‘complex character’,” McGreal writes.

Similarly, the 2016 CDC opioid prescribing guideline is described as too late to be useful. McGreal looks closely at the debate about the CDC guideline and recommendations from the 2017 opioid commission set up by President Trump. But despite these much-touted steps, “little changed on the ground for states desperate for treatment facilities and help with the social costs of the tragedy.”

The book concludes on a pessimistic note, captured in a comment from Nathaniel Katz, MD, about opioid addiction and overdose: "I don’t really see any prospect for intelligent policy in this area in the United States.”

McGreal summarizes his ideas with an indictment of American culture.

"In large parts of the United States, opioids were popular because they were a fix. A fix for emotional pain. A fix for failing bodies. A fix for struggling to make it in a society that promises so much, and judges by what is achieved, but turns it back on so many of those who fail to live up to that promise," he writes.

If “American Overdose” offers lessons, it is that the opioid crisis is a result not only corporate greed but also American culture; in particular politicians, regulators and a broader medical industry with agendas contrary to the public good. The book is an origin tale of the opioid crisis that offers little hope for the future.

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.