Notes on a Telephone Conversation with Thomas Novotny, US Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services. By: Lana Kirby and Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D.
On September 19, 2016, chronic pain advocate and activist Lana Kirby spent nearly an hour in a telephone conference with Thomas Novotny, the US Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services.
The occasion for this interview was President Barack Obama’s declaration of the week as “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.”
The points which Lana offered to Mr. Novotny are central to ongoing efforts to dissuade the US government from being a party to abuse and denial of appropriate medical care to millions of chronic pain patients.
The association of prescription opioids and heroin in a claimed “opioid epidemic” is grossly inaccurate propaganda.
The heroin “crisis” wasn’t created by prescription drugs and it won’t be solved by denial of medical care to people in pain.
Although opioids are not risk-free, only a small minority of chronic pain patients develop an abuse disorder.
Likewise, statistics on causes of death have been manipulated to create an “epidemic” that does not in fact exist.
By adding all the recent heroin overdoses to the rare prescription opioid overdoses, they have created a huge number of “deaths due to opiods”.
They are counting on the fact that few Americans understand that heroin is an opioid and thus believe all these deaths are due only to prescription drugs.
Millions have taken opioid medications for years under doctor supervision, at stable doses and with minimal risk of opioid abuse disorder.
As a chronic pain advocate, Lana works with a Facebook group called “Veterans & Americans United for Equality in Medical Care.”
She communicates daily with people who are struggling to maintain their quality of life – any quality of life – despite efforts by the US Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency and even the Surgeon General, to force chronic pain patients off opioids.
These efforts ignore the reality that there are no practical or reliable alternatives to opioids in present medical practice.
But the US government doesn’t care.
They discussed — and Mr. Novotny AGREED (in fact said that he was aware of the facts) — that people with severely debilitating disease processes or injuries are being denied necessary medication which would enable them to lead a somewhat normal life.
Yet Novotny seemed totally disinterested in changing this sad state of affairs.
Much of this horrific abuse can be laid at the feet of the March 2016 guidelines issued by the US CDC to general practitioners for prescription of opioids in adult non-cancer chronic pain.
Though phrased as “voluntary”, the guidelines are in fact nothing of the sort. Pain management specialists accurately perceive that if they violate the guidelines in order to treat patients’ pain, they may be maliciously prosecuted by the DEA on false charges of running “pill mills”.
Adding insult to injury, the US Surgeon General has sent a letter to every physician in America, asking them to continue reducing pain medications to patients who are using them without problems or abuse
A major problem with this approach is that it doesn’t address the real problem of street drugs, while it sets up pain patients as scapegoats for outright medical abuse.
Lana shared examples with Mr. Novotny of the damage being done by the CDC guidelines and restrictive State laws which reflect these guidelines.
Mr. Novotny offered no suggestions on how to help these people, other than calling a suicide hotline.
According to our government, this is medical care for pain now:
call the suicide hotline.
He appeared fully aware that cases such as these are happening routinely all across America
a comprehensive strategy for pain research, education, and treatment standards was published in March 2016 – shortly before the CDC opioid guidelines.
The pain strategy has effectively disappeared since, buried in the controversy over the CDC guidelines. It isn’t funded.
And in Mr. Novotny’s opinion, it won’t be funded, absent a very large showing of people in severe pain and suffering, along with thousands of letters to Congress.
According to Novotny, no rush will be placed on the National Pain Strategy until pain patients make it politically too expensive to ignore
She [Lana] has outlined her understanding of the telephone conversation and invited both to speak at the Washington Rally Against Pain to be held on the Ellipse (Presidents’ Park) on October 22.