Suicides increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, and are now the 10th leading cause of death in the country.
In 2014, nearly 43,000 Americans committed suicide, over twice the number of deaths that have been linked to overdoses of opioid pain medication
Most often suicides are blamed on depression, mental illness, financial problems, or drug and alcohol abuse. Untreated chronic pain is rarely even mentioned.
But in recent months there have been a growing number of anecdotal reports of pain patients killing themselves because they can no longer get pain medication or find doctors willing to treat them.
Donald Alan Beyer of Bovill, Idaho was one of them
After years of suffering from chronic back pain, the disabled logger went into his backyard on May 8 – his 47th birthday — and shot himself in the head.
He was in so much pain he could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom. I guess he felt suicide was his only chance for relief,” says Beyer’s son, Garrett.
This and the eventual hole in the healthcare system focused on ignoring people with chronic pain led to his suicide this month.
Beyer’s doctor retired last year. Beyer searched frantically for a new doctor, according to his son, but was unable to find anyone willing to take a new patient with chronic pain.
After months without pain medication, Beyer reached his breaking point
Garrett Beyer is sharing the painful memory of his father’s death because he wants government officials, politicians and anti-opioid activists to recognize that efforts to discourage opioid prescribing are having devastating consequences for pain patients and their families across the country
“I am now terrified that I will also follow in his devastating footsteps.” Garrett [the son] is 27, married and has two children
I have now had 2 spine surgeries in the past 5 years, which included 3 discectomies and laminectomies, leaving me completely disabled and preparing for yet more surgeries in hopes that one day I can be normal,”
Impact of CDC Guidelines
In mid-March, the CDC released controversial guidelines that discourage doctors from prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The guidelines are voluntary and were only meant for primary care physicians, but many other physicians appear to be adopting them, even pain management specialists
Pain News Network has been contacted by dozens of pain patients in recent months who say their physicians are weaning them off opioids or abruptly cutting them off completely.
A 67-year old Florida woman who has suffered from migraines since the age of five wrote to us, saying she was having trouble finding a doctor.
“I finally have an appointment with a doctor in two months who will then refer me to a pain clinic which no doubt will take another two months. At this point I have to live in pain. I may become one of the suicide statistics,” said Lana
Another woman, who suffers from chronic back and abdominal pain, is worried that her physician will stop prescribing pain medication.
“My pain management doctor constantly makes comments that he’s going to stop all meds. No reason or plan. If this happens I will be forced to go on disability, I will lose my job, insurance benefits, and means of caring for myself and family,” she wrote
This doctor has full control of my life with a swipe of his pen.”
“I was discharged. Told me I was positive for morphine, methadone, cocaine, Klonopin and no Percocet in my system. I have never ever done those drugs ever. I told doctors wouldn’t all that kill me? Oh and positive too for Suboxone. I’m in shock
her doctor is not following the CDC’s guidelines, which urge physicians not to dismiss patients for a failed drug test because it “could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety
Poulson has a question for CDC director Tom Frieden, who said the guidelines couldn’t wait because “so many people are dying” from overdoses
“Then I ask you, are you willing to deal with a new epidemic of increased suicide rates, as many are dying of a result of unintended suffering?” said Poulson
We’ll never know just how many patients kill themselves because their pain was untreated or under-treated.
Experts believe many suicides go unreported or are misclassified as accidental, often covered up by grieving family members or accommodating medical examiners