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I-Team: Doctors to tell lawmakers of patients left suffering because of opioid crackdown

Local News

Despite their influence and stature, Nevada physicians are not overtly political, but it looks like doctors are planning to make their presence known at the Nevada Legislature this year.

Monday is designated as doctor day at the legislature, where physicians and medical organizations hope to make an impression on lawmakers.

One issue at the top of their list of concerns is the regulation of pain management, which doctors say has become burdensome for them and deadly for their patients.

#OurPain: The southern Nevada opioid crisis 

Hours after being released from a month-long hospital stay, Theresa Hatter told the I-Team about the moment she was first diagnosed with arachnoiditis.

“I couldn’t see. It was the worst pain I ever had. If you were saying pain on a scale of 1 to 10, I was at a 15,” Hatter said.

For 16 years, she was a model  patient in pain management. Opioid medication was her only relief. Then out of the blue, her doctor told her goodbye and good luck.

Reporter George Knapp: “With pain medication you had a life?”

Theresa Hatter: “I had a life.”

Reporter George Knapp: “And now you don’t?”

Theresa Hatter: “I’m in bed.”

In the 90s, Tracy Davis was shot in the back. The bullet ripped through his stomach and lung and is still inside, until recently his insurance paid for pain medication. But then the culinary union plan ordered his doctor to cut the meds in half.

Reporter George Knapp: “Someone decided you don’t need it?”

Tracy Davis: “Yes. They never even ran a test on me.”

Across the country, the great opioid crackdown continues. Doctors have been pressured into cutting or eliminating pain medications against their own medical judgements. Insurance companies have cut or eliminated coverage. Pharmacy chains have imposed their own — often severe — limitations or requirements.

Doctors like Maurice Gregory are squeezed by regulators, lawmakers, insurance executives, and pharmacists, none of whom have examined the actual patients.

“This anti-opiate has gotten to the extreme of sacrificing people’s lives,” said Dr Maurice Gregory, Las Vegas physician. “We are already sacrificing people’s quality of life.”

Opioid prescriptions are now at their lowest point in 15 years, but overdose deaths are at their highest in that same time. Cutting medications for legitimate pain patients has had no effect on addicts’ overdosing.

What it has done is to create suffering for millions of people whose mistake was they got sick or injured and are now expected to live the rest of their lives in pain.

“You can live 30, 40, 50 years with these diseases. The only thing you can do for them is control the pain. There’s no reason, why would we not want to do that,” said Terry Murphy, public policy consultant. “And yet we are taking medication away from them and forcing them to live in torture in America in 2019. Why?”

Murphy has had multiple surgeries and was a pain patient herself. Now, she is helping Nevada doctors to mobilize. Murphy and others including medical associations are gearing up to make their presence known at the Nevada Legislature. Among the goals is to get a handle on changes imposed two years ago which give pharmacists the ability to deny or alter prescriptions or to make excessive demands for patient information or new tests.

“These decisions need to be made between a doctor and a patient and what is happening is between a doctor, a pharmacy benefit manager, a pharmacist, an insurer, and the patient gets lost in that equation and the doctor who really wants to help the patient is frustrated,” Murphy said.

While doctors here feel under the gun, Murphy says Nevada is already less draconian than some states. She thinks that pending legislation could make Nevada into a model for the rest of the country, with appropriate safeguards, but also something missing from the system — compassion. 

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