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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The push for pain killer restrictions ignore legitimate medical needs

Soon there will be people across the country going to their doctor only to come home to feel horrible pain. We can thank the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), the politicians who support them and some sensationalist journalist for this.
The DEA and their supporters don’t care if anyone is in pain. They are more concerned about their sanctimonious campaign to make sure no one uses drugs in this country. The DEA isn’t made up of doctors and their holy campaign is far more important to them than those who go to a doctor for legitimate pain problems.
From the New York Times;

“Trying to stem the scourge of prescription drug abuse, an advisory panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted on Friday to toughen the restrictions on painkillers like Vicodin that contain hydrocodone, the most widely prescribed drugs in the country. 
The recommendation, which the drug agency is likely to follow, would limit access to the drugs by making them harder to prescribe, a major policy change that advocates said could help ease the growing problem of addiction to painkillers, which exploded in the late 1990s and continues to strike hard in communities from Appalachia and the Midwest to New England. 
But at 19 to 10, the vote was far from unanimous, with some opponents expressing skepticism that the change would do much to combat abuse. Oxycodone, another highly abused painkiller and the main ingredient in OxyContin, has been in the more restrictive category since it first came on the market, they pointed out in testimony at a public hearing. They also said the change could create unfair obstacles for patients in chronic pain.” 

Most commonly used modern painkillers today have hydrocodone in them. Many have been used without much abuse, such as Loratab. That drug is probably the mildest version of the hydrocodone painkillers. Many doctors use it as an alternative to the other more potent painkillers, such as Demerol (meperidine) or Dilaudid (hydromorphone). There are many medicines for pain with various amounts of hydrocodone in them, with pill amounts ranging from between 2.5 and 10 mg.  It is no were near as strong as the other commonly used painkiller Oxycontin (oxycodone hydrochloride). That drug comes in tablets with as much as 80 mg. Oxycodone is already under the proposed restrictions.
What this does is make it harder for people who have serious pain to get effective painkillers.
The restrictions were reported in The New York Times,

“The change would have sweeping consequences for doctors, pharmacists and patients. Refills without a new prescription would be forbidden, as would faxed prescriptions and those called in by phone. Only written prescriptions from a doctor would be allowed. Distributors would be required to store the drugs in special vaults.
The vote comes after similar legislation in Congress failed last year, after aggressive lobbying by pharmacists and drugstores.”

A part of support for these changes is because of the media hype over people abusing these drugs and stealing them from pharmacies, including reports of armed robberies. But how are these new changes going to stop an armed robber. They don’t even use prescriptions. This argument is meaningless.
An example of the media hype is in USA Today;

“Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, the White House Office on National Drug Policy says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified the misuse of these powerful painkillers as an epidemic, with 1.3 million emergency room visits in 2010, a 115% increase since 2004. Overdose deaths on opioid pain relievers surpassed deaths from heroin and cocaine for the first time in 2008.
This rise of Opana abuse illustrates the adaptability of drug addicts and the never-ending challenge facing law enforcement authorities, addiction specialists and pharmaceutical companies. Just when they think they have curbed abuse and stopped trafficking of one drug, another fills the void. Opana's dangerous new popularity arose when OxyContin's manufacturer changed its formula to deter users from crushing, breaking or dissolving the pill so it could be snorted or injected to achieve a high.”

This country has always had a problem with drug addiction. People who abuse opiates are constantly looking for new ways to get them. These new restrictions won’t change that. It is just grand standing, by government officials and some people in the news media. The article even admits that addicts constantly find new ways to get narcotics and has always found alternatives to the drugs they can’t get. Why are these new rules going to change that?
The DEA has no business interfering in this country’s legal medical practices. They are cops. They are not doctors and most probably don’t really know that much about curing addiction. They are just pushing for more unnecessary restriction to try and make their jobs easier.
The problems they will cause to people with legitimate pain issues are just plain mean spirited. They don’t care about people’s health, only about showing off to the press and scoring brownie points to make their jobs look better. 
Radley Balko has written about people who have had problems getting needed painkillers in the Huffington Post. He documented the case of Mary Maston;

“For the first few years after her diagnosis, Maston lived in Tennessee. There, she says, "my doctor was pretty good about writing me a prescription for pain medication when I needed one." But in March 2011, Maston and her family moved to Florida to be closer to her husband's family, and her condition worsened. Florida doctors, she says, were much less willing to prescribe the level of medication she needed. In September, the daily pain from her condition forced her to quit her job. She says she's been to the emergency room seven times in the last eighth months, all due to overwhelming pain.
"I always wait until the last possible second, until the pain is so unbearable I am in tears and can't walk," Maston says. "I have a background in Human Resources, so I know [ER visits] drive up everyone's insurance costs. My husband literally carries me to the car to get me to the ER. This is no way to live."

Her problems were that doctors were afraid to give her the pain medicine she needed because they might come under fire of the DEA. Balko explained in his article that Florida was one of the first states to go through the prescription painkiller craze;  

“The most recent campaign against opioid painkillers began last year, when media outlets began reporting an apparent climb in overdose deaths in the state of Florida. As with the scare in the early 2000s (see part one of this series), politicians and law enforcement officials scrambled to action, promising new laws and policies to dry up the state's supply of oxycodone.”

So pain patients suffer due to legitimate doctor’s fears of interference in their work by the DEA.
Once again, the ridiculous and un-winnable “war on drugs” continues to make life harder for some people here in the US. But few if any politicians are willing to come out against this kind of abuse.
-សតិវ អតុ

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