Patients suffering from chronic pain say they are finding it more difficult to get prescriptions for opioid painkillers, The Boston Globe reports. Federal and state regulations to reduce access to opioids have made doctors and pharmacists more reluctant to prescribe and dispense the drugs.
Chronic pain patients say they are frequently required to prove they are not addicted to opioids, the article notes. An estimated 100 million adults in the United States are thought to suffer from chronic pain. In many cases, the pain is caused by injury, disease or nervous system problems.
There are a number of non-opioid treatments available, including anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, devices such as spinal stimulators, physical therapy and meditation. While these treatments rarely stop the pain, patients often use a variety of these options to help them cope with it. Some patients see opioids as critical in helping them deal with their pain.
Claire Sampson, Co-Chairwoman of the advocacy group the Massachusetts Pain Initiative, who works as a nurse at a pain clinic, says many people in the state are losing access to opioid painkillers. “Providers are turning their backs on them,” Sampson said. “They’re afraid of consequences from the government. . . . They’re afraid of having their licenses pulled. They’re afraid of scrutiny.”
Sampson says doctors often misinterpret or overreact to federal and state guidelines designed to reduce opioid prescribing.
“Opioids absolutely harm some patients. But they absolutely help some patients,” said Dr. Daniel P. Alford, a Boston University School of Medicine addiction specialist who directs the school’s Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education program.
Dr. Julia H. Lindenberg, a primary care doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opioid prescribing are reasonable and necessary. “There really is no great evidence that chronic opioids for chronic pain are truly beneficial,” she said.