Chronic Pain Patients: War On Opioids Will Ruin Our Lives

By Bryan Le 02/12/18

In their passion to take on the opioid crisis, Florida authorities may be turning chronic pain patients into collateral damage.

last pill in blister pack on wooden board
Relief may soon run dry for those who need a daily supply.

As authorities in Florida knuckle down to take on the opioid crisis, people who need daily doses of prescription opioid painkillers fear they could be left to suffer.

Michele Jacobovitz tells the Tampa Bay Times that a car accident in 1987 left her with chronic pain. The 56-year-old has undergone 73 surgeries all over her body and was diagnosed with breast cancer in December. She says she needs the help of a pill that contains acetaminophen and oxycodone each morning to get out of bed and to the bathroom in time. She’s not addicted but she needs the pills, she said.

“It comes down to quality of life,” Jacobovitz said. “I’m not using these drugs to get high. I’m using them so I can have some kind of life. So I can get out of bed. They don’t take my pain away. But they mask it so I can function.”

Proposed legislation, that has become a priority for Florida Governor Rick Scott, would limit doctors from prescribing more than three-day supplies of opioids (or seven days in special cases), and could make it harder for chronic pain sufferers like Jacobovitz to get the steady supply they need. The move would also require doctors to train with opioid prescription techniques as well as regularly check a shared opioid database.

“When people think of opioids, they think of addicts and criminals,” Jacobovitz said. “That’s not us.”

Florida’s legislators are focused on stopping excess pills from being prescribed to acute, short-term pain patients, but seem to have forgotten to consider the effects these limits will have on those who rely on a daily dose.

The federal government also lacks the nuance to differentiate. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking in Tampa about the Trump administration’s efforts against the opioid crisis, said that doctors prescribe too many opioids and more people should try aspirin instead.

"What we need is a balanced and nuanced approach," said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "More people are buying drugs on the illicit market right now because they can’t find the opioids they were used to getting, and there’s no treatment facilities in their communities. This is different than the people who have reasonable diagnoses."

The crackdown mentality is also having a chilling effect on pharmacists.

“There are plenty of times when I’d have the techs just say, ‘Sorry we don’t have that’ to an individual who has never been to the store before but has an opioid prescription,” said pharmacist Larry Golbom. “I remember a time when a woman came through the drive-thru with a 20-pill oxycodone prescription from a dentist. She said no one would fill it for her. I believed her and I didn’t either.”

Golbom says he’s angered many patients by not filling their painkiller prescriptions, but feels he has to. “You don’t want to be the only pharmacy filling these kinds of prescriptions or else word gets out,” he said.

While opioids are the only medication on the market that can stave off the pain that chronic pain patients endure, some are looking into alternatives. A study recently showed that cannabis was found to decrease the likelihood of opioid use in HIV patients with chronic pain.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter