Severe pain became part of Richard’s everyday life 19 years ago. Nothing in particular triggered it, but back problems caught up with him.
Five surgeries, acupuncture, physical therapy, group therapy, massage therapy; it all helped — sort of. For Richard, only the opioid Oxycontin takes the edge off, and getting that prescription filled has become a challenge.
“The government shouldn’t be telling me — the insurance companies shouldn’t be telling me what is going in my medicine cabinet,” he said.
Theresa Burick is Richard’s doctor.
“Physical pain is horrible, but the emotional pain as a result of not being able to get your physical pain treated is almost as bad,” Burick said.
Every month, Burick’s office has to fight the system until Richard gets his medicine. The system is the state, which monitors each opioid prescription, and the insurance company. Both are understandably cautious because of the opioid addiction crisis.
“I think there are also ways to carry it to an extreme that endangers those and puts those at risk who are responsible users,” Burick said.
Penn State Hershey pain specialist Dr. David Giampetro believes insurance companies and the state ought to follow the guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, which are less likely to leave chronic pain patients feeling abandoned.
“The reaction to those guidelines from the insurance industry and physicians has been complex, and in some cases probably has swung the pendulum too far the other way, especially with regard to patients who are already on opioid therapy,” Giampetro said.
“We certainly have a serious opioid drug problem in this country, but we also have a group of people who need those medicines to have a good quality of life,” Richard said.
Many doctors believe that patients should not be on opioids for an extended period of time unless they have terminal cancer. That’s a hard sell to people like Richard who’ve managed their intake for a long time and are able to live their lives because of these drugs. They say the extreme pain they’d be left with would be a lot to bear.
The state Department of Health says, in part, “We know there are individuals who need an opioid, but we are working with physicians to prescribe opioids more cautiously and judiciously.”
The state encourages patients like Richard to email Pennsylvania’s Patient Advocacy Program at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 844-377-7367.
There’s another local “Don’t Punish Pain” rally coming up at the state Capitol on March 20.