The personal side of pain: Don Reitmeyer III

Chronic pain sufferer cut off by the VA

LAS VEGAS - For years, Don Reitmeyer III devoted his life to preserving the freedom of our nation as a Marine in the U.S. military. But when he returned home from deployment in 1987 Reitmeyer says he was abandoned by the government in which he served.

After his time in the military, Don was prescribed opioid medications, like Oxycodone and Percocet, to treat his physical and mental injuries for almost 30 years. He says it helped him function and have some quality of life. That is, until the Veterans Administration cut him off abruptly in 2014. 

Since then, the Veteran's Assistance hospital has left him to suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, a back injury and high blood pressure without the help of any opioid pain medications. Don says “there is no way you can tell me, someone who has been on opiates for 30 years and isn't abusing them, tell them they can suddenly be accused of being a substance abuse disorder patient just because they changed their policy. It doesn't mean that my pain went away.”

And he isn't the only one suffering.  Don says he knows many other veterans in his area who have killed themselves from a lack of medical support in recent years. 

Like many other pain patients, Don’s doctors have tried to switch him to alternative pain treatments like Gabapentin (a nerve pain and seizure medication), yoga and over-the-counter pain relievers.

Unfortunately, for patients like Don, yoga over-the-counter medications just don’t work. Don says, “How am I supposed to do yoga? I mean at 51? I’ve already got osteoarthritis; I can predict the weather with my back.”

Over-the-counter medications like aspirin, Aleve, and ibuprofen work well for healthy people. But for those like Don with pre-existing medical conditions, they can cause high blood pressure and internal ulcers “The last time I got a stomach ulcer. That’s how I found out I had a mild heart attack. So, that’s what is going to kill me. They’re not treating my pain and my blood pressure is going through the roof.”

Left with no other options, Don says he has resorted to buying medication from the street to manage his pain symptoms, and he grows his own marijuana for pain. He says he buys 30, 15 milligram morphine pills for $140 on the street.  Don says, "I’m not a drug addict. I'm just trying to keep the pain to the point where I can manage. And it's hard."

Even though he’s faced tough times since the opioid crackdown, Don says doesn't blame the doctors. He says, the Centers for Disease Control is “dictating doctor policy, there’s no longer that Hippocratic oath, they’ve taken that away from the doctor and his ability to prescribe.

I know my doctor wouldn't have shut me off. I had the same doctor for 30 years.” Don says doctors are scared to prescribe opioid pain medications because they fear losing their licenses and feel pressure to strictly follow the CDC’s recommendations.


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