Pain Patients Feel Unintended Consequence of Federal Prescription Drugs Crackdown

By Victoria Kim 08/12/15

The crackdown on pill mills has left legitimate patients without needed medication.

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When the Drug Enforcement Administration released new regulations on prescription drugs last year, the intended outcome was to rein in the abuse of hydrocodone painkillers like Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab. But by limiting how doctors prescribe the drugs and how often patients can refill them, it's the patients with chronic pain who are suffering the unintended consequences.

New Hampshire Public Radio spoke with Bill Napier, who owns Panama Pharmacy in Jacksonville, Fla. Napier says he turns away “sometimes 20 people a day” because wholesalers will no longer distribute the amount of medication he needs. Napier says it’s harder to serve customers who legitimately need painkillers.

Florida, where authorities have shut down more than 250 pill mills, was once considered the epicenter for the trafficking of illegal prescription drugs until a few years ago, according to NHPR. Now, under tighter restrictions, pharmacies like CVS have prioritized its anti-abuse efforts in the state rather than the patients who genuinely need the drugs.

Last year, the DEA told Napier that he was dispensing too many narcotics, and seized all of his opioid prescriptions for seven months. “We’re being asked to act as quasi-law enforcement people to ration medications,” Napier told NHPR. “I have not had training of rationing of medications.”

Dr. Sean Morrison, who is the director of the Palliative Care program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, agrees that the tighter restrictions have resulted in “dramatic reductions in our ability to provide appropriate care for our patients in pain.”

The rising misuse of prescription drugs has yielded a deadly outcome. In September 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that deaths linked to opioid overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2011, from 4,263 deaths in 1999 to 17,000 in 2011.

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