8 News NOW I-Team

I-Team: Feds back-pedal on opioid crackdown

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Millions of Americans suffering with chronic pain are hoping for relief, now that the CDC has clarified its guidelines led to a nationwide crackdown on prescription opioids.

The overwhelming majority of opioid related overdoses are caused by illicit drugs, including heroin, not prescription medication, but Nevada and other states have imposed restrictions on legal pain management. Now, state lawmakers are working on changes in the law that will allow doctors to do their job and ease the suffering of legitimate pain patients.

“There are tens of thousands of patients that have been involuntarily tapered down or off their opioids and they’re suffering. They’re in pain,” said Rick Martin, retired pharmacist.

Retired pharmacist and patient advocate Rick Martin relates to the tens of millions of Americans coping with chronic pain since he is one himself. When the CDC issued its supposedly voluntary guidelines in 2016, it never meant for states to enact them into law, or for insurers and pharmacy chains to impose even harsher limits on pain medication, but that’s exactly what happened.

READ: #OurPain – The Southern Nevada opioid crisis

Now, three years later, CDC has admitted its guidelines have been misapplied in Nevada and elsewhere. The FDA and surgeon general have also weighed in, confirming what the I-Team has been reporting for years — that millions of Americans suffering with legitimate intractable pain have had their lives destroyed, and in some cases, ended.

READ: Relief for Pain Patients: CDC makes bold clarification about opioid care in NEJM
READ: Pain patients get relief from War on Opioids

In particular, Martin cites military veterans, many of them injured in combat, now cut off from pain relief by the Veterans Administration. Martin thinks it is no coincidence that 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

“They go back, some of them, as far as the Vietnam War, veterans who’ve been under medication for years and years, 20 years without any problems and they’re all of a sudden taken off. These are our veterans. They fought for our country. They deserve to have pain relief,” he said.

Nevada joined the anti-opioid bandwagon by enacting a law which placed excessive requirements on doctors, not as strict as in other states, but enough to cause some doctors to quit prescribing opioids altogether or to leave medicine.

“There are hundreds of patients who are not able to get into a pain doctor. We have a waiting list that’s a year long. We had a guy on the phone the other night crying because he can’t get into a pain doctor and he’s tried everywhere,” said Dr. Dan Laird. I felt terrible but there’s nothing I can do. The hysteria that’s been whipped up about opioids and continues to be used as a talking point among politicians continues to hurt patients.”

Dr. Laird is encouraged by recent statements by the CDC and the FDA urging physicians and states to back away from forced tapering of pain medication, but he worries changes will come too late for many patients who are in pain now. Public policy consultant Terry Murphy thinks Nevada lawmakers have received the message.

“In Nevada, there’s a real recognition there needs to be safeguards but physician discretion must be balanced with that,” said Terry Murphy, Strategic Solutions.

She is tracking two bills in the legislature which would strengthen a doctor’s ability to prescribe pain medication. Murphy says that is a call to be made by physicians, not the government.

“No person responds to a disease the same as the next guy on the bench and no person responds to a medication the same as the next guy. that’s where all the education and experience of your doctor comes in,” Murphy said.

Dr. Laird and other advocates urge pain patients to contact their legislators and let them know how they feel. One bill, AB 239, has already been approved by the Nevada State Assembly and Wednesday had its first hearing in the Senate.

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