How This “Opioid” Crackdown is Affecting Patients

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Millions of people are being affected (or will be affected) by the opioid epidemic which is targeting both illicit street drugs and prescription medication. Pain patients are being caught in the crossfire between health providers, policy-makers, and drug abusers. As a result, the pain medication that many patients have come to rely on is being re-evaluated, restricted, and in some cases, taken off the table.

Here’s how patients living with chronic pain are being affected:

  • Their Pain Medication is Being Withheld- As the government and healthcare providers tighten up on how prescription pain medication is being distributed, patient dosages are being re-evaluated. In some cases, hospitals and clinics are restructuring and replacing pain management doctors who they deem to be higher risk for “over-prescribing”. As a result, prescription doses, refills, and medication types are being dramatically tapered down or refused outright.  
  • They Must Submit to Random Drug Tests- In order for some patients to be prescribed pain medication, they must agree to the rules of their hospital or clinic’s pain management program. This can mean random drug testing, random pill counting, or having to participate in other, sometimes costly, medical and psychological testing in order to continue getting pain medication.
  • They Feel Stigmatized- A common theme among patients is the feeling that they are being stigmatized. Many pain patients report in online communities, forums, and through the media that they are being treated like “drug addicts”. In other words, patients report that they are being treated like drug-seekers who are desperate for their prescription.
  • They May Face Withdrawal- Stopping prescription pain medication or drastically cutting down doses of opioids can be very dangerous. Medical teams must responsibly assist and monitor any weaning off of medication. For patients taking high doses of prescription medication for prolonged periods, eliminating medication altogether can come with withdrawal symptoms including: feeling flu-like, muscle aches, insomnia, nausea etc.
  • They Have a Higher Risk of Taking Illegal Drugs- When chronic pain patients are denied pain medication, pain and withdrawal can lead to patients seeking medication/ relief elsewhere. This may mean buying prescription pain medication illegally or using cheaper, opioid street drugs to alleviate symptoms and pain.
  • They Have a Higher Risk of Pain-Related Suicide? Cases of pain-related suicide are emerging in the media. Although there isn’t sufficient data to back the idea that suicide amongst chronic pain groups is on the risethere are numerous cases reported and physicians speaking out about this issue. In some cases, chronic pain patients were denied medication to treat pain, while others had doses cutback and found their pain unbearable. Some patients described suicide as “their only way out”, reportedly telling others about a plan to end their life if more cutbacks to medication were made.

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Tags: opioid epidemic, targeting, illicit street drugs, prescription medication, Pain patients, crossfire, health providers, policy-makers, drug abusers

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