A pharmacist in Celina, Tenn., was one of 60 people indicted on charges of opioid-related crimes last week, in a multistate sting. John Polston was charged with 21 counts of filling medically unnecessary narcotic prescriptions.
Here’s the first hint that this article is only about people with addiction, while people with pain are forgotten: the article uses the word “narcotics” to describe our prescribed medicines, instead of “pain medication”, “opioids”, or even the all-encompassing “drugs”, which is the term favored by the CDC when counting overdoses.
I’m sure they are well aware that most people will assume they’re referring to opioids, and even more precisely (wrong), “prescription opioids”.
With so many more accurate and representative words to choose from, using the word “narcotics” here was clearly an intentional reference to opioid addiction and a deliberate slap in the face of pain patients who have to take these medications to achieve some quality of life
He was also Gail Gray’s pharmacist and the person she relied on to regularly fill her opioid prescriptions.
“I take pain medicine first thing in the morning. I’m usually up most of the night with pain,” she said. “I hurt all the time.”
Living in a mountainous community on the Tennessee-Kentucky line, Gray has coped with a degenerative disk disease for more than 15 years, requiring multiple back surgeries. She says the chronic pain is totally debilitating without powerful opioids.
But with her druggist shut down, her high-dose prescriptions have been questioned by the other pharmacy in town.
“They wouldn’t take me because I was red-flagged on my dose,” she said.
The dozens of indictments across Appalachia left thousands of patients who are dependent on opioids to function on a daily basis scrambling, from Ohio to Alabama..
Over 50 of those indicted were doctors, nurses or other medical professionals. So as agents were in the field making arrests, the Justice Department also coordinated with local agencies to deploy health workers to look for desperate patients.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said the enforcement was coordinated with health agencies and addiction treatment providers.
“That plan is designed to ensure that affected patients have continued access to care and are, at the same time, directed to legitimate medical professionals in the area,” he said at a press conference in Cincinnati last week.
Amid an ongoing crackdown on overprescribing doctors in Appalachia announced in October, patient advocates have been increasingly concerned for pain patients and those abusing prescription drugs.
I wonder if there’s a rule for journalists that they aren’t allowed to mention the pain relief provided by opioids without mentioning addiction in the same sentence.
Being suddenly cut off from medications they depend on can be dangerous. Patients could become so desperate from withdrawal symptoms that they may resort to street drugs and could overdose.
Again, they act as though pain patients simply didn’t exist.
People with addiction at least have a chance of becoming free of their “need” for opioids, while we pain patients, after trying all other means, have no such options. We’re condemned by our conditions to a lifetime in the prison of our pain and opioids let us out on parole for a few hours.
If an opioid life-preserver is the only thing holding a patient above the ever-rising pain waters, taking it away means they’ll flail like crazy until exhausted and then drown.
But this time, in Tennessee, the health department is working to connect people who need pain treatment to legitimate pain clinics.
And the substance abuse department began plastering messages online just as the indictments were unsealed, giving patients a hotline to call.
“This is the first time that we have had this type of heads-up,” said Marie Williams, who oversees Tennessee’s substance abuse agency.
With previous stings that resulted in the closure of pain clinics, Williams said, her staffers have gotten, perhaps, one day to prepare. This time, it was nearly a month.
Overdose prevention specialists have been deployed to train families on how to use reversal drugs like Narcan. They’ve also been taping up flyers on shuttered clinic doors.
Williams said she hopes many who may have become addicted to painkillers will see the loss of their opioid supplier as a turning point.
Again we hear the “opioid = addiction” myth. This is such a common mistake that most people don’t even realize what a cruelly prejudiced statement it is. All the PROPagance spread far and wide by the media has everyone convinced that any long-term opioid medication use is just an addiction that can and should be stopped.
No one thinks of the pain patients left to stew in their intractable, now totally out of control pain.
“This is an opportunity to really change your life and get to be the person that you really want to be,” she said.
And this is exactly what’s impossible for pain patients when they have a chronic, relentless and lifelong condition that causes pain.
We don’t have a chance “to be the person that we really want to be” – that persona was taken away from us by our pain, which eventually consumes “who we really wanted to be”.
One of the medical practices shuttered by the federal takedown is in the small town of Carthage, Tenn. Dr. Bowdoin Smith is charged with prescribing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
Suzanne Angel is a state-funded outreach nurse in the area who is helping contact patients in the wake of the crackdown. She has been warning local hospital and emergency responders to be on alert for patients who may act out of desperation to find addictive narcotics or who may even be suicidal.
Again, the article mentions only “addictive narcotics” and says nothing about the opioids used by pain patients who are just as desperate as the addicted people (and may sometimes even be both).
As usual, they assume that every patient who sees one of these targeted doctors must just be an addict without “real” pain.
This month, the Food and Drug Administrationacknowledged the risk of serious harm for patients who are abruptly taken off opioids and issued new guidance to prescribers for how to safely taper patients off high dosages of opioids.
“I’m sure that they feel depression, despair, maybe anger and fear about ‘Who is going to take care of me?’ and ‘Is there going to be any support or services out there for me?’” Angel said. “I don’t want them to feel alone.”
Well, this blog and its readers clearly show we are not alone:
- not alone in our pain and misery,
- not alone in being regarded a problem by society,
- not alone in being falsely accused of being “addicted”,
- not alone in being shamed by pharmacists,
- not alone in being lied to and being accused of lying by doctors who don’t believe our pain is “bad enough” to require opioid medication.
There may be up to 10 million of us.
Angel said there are now more alternatives to opioids, and it’s possible patients could find another pain clinic.
This is a meaningless statement: It’s also “possible” for all the atoms in our bodies to make the same sudden shift and move our whole body to one side or the other, but I’m not holding my breath for billions of billions of billions of atoms to undergo the same change at the same time.
Because of the current legal focus on opioids, it can be much harder to obtain higher-dosage pills. And among the thousands of patients getting their medication through questionable providers, many have legitimate needs.
“I’ve tried therapies. I’ve tried injections. I’ve tried several different things,” said patient Gail Gray. “We didn’t just start off taking opiates.”
Gray found a new pharmacy, though it means driving to the next county. She expects it won’t be long before she’s seeking help again.
“We’re being punished for people that do abuse drugs,” Gray said. “The chronic pain patients are being punished for it.”