LAS VEGAS - A year ago this month, 8 News Now aired a multi-part, in-depth project called "#OurPain: The other side of opioids," which explored the mostly untold stories of how a crackdown on prescription medications has affected millions of legitimate patients dealing with chronic pain.
The Centers for Disease Control started this ball rolling back in 2016 when it issued supposedly voluntary guidelines that have since been enacted into law across the country. In the past 12 months, the crackdown has intensified, though it failed to put a dent in opioid overdoses.
Barby Ingle, the president of the International Pain Foundation, learned about chronic pain patients the hard way when she became one. Ingle lost everything to pain, then slowly rebuilt her life and became an advocate for pain patients.
Since 2016, when the CDC initiated the great opioid crackdown by issuing supposedly voluntary guidelines, the suffering of millions of legitimate pain patients grew to be worse.
"I'm hearing more desperation," Ingle said. "I'm hearing about more suicides, more loss of friends."
Ingle says she hears the stories every day through her pain foundation, but now, the news is slowly seeping out.
Suicides among pain patients, including veterans and seniors, have spiked. Pain patients who could function and hold jobs have had to leave the workforce after being cut off.
Forced reductions in the production of opioid medications is felt in hospital emergency rooms, even in hospices where end-of-life cancer patients have had to suffer.
The crackdown on pain medications not only failed to cut opioid overdoses, but the deaths have also gone up. Especially, in areas that cut down the most. Death records, including in Nevada show that 80 percent of deaths are from illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, or a combination of drugs and alcohol, along with other underlying medical problems.
"Gunshot wounds; people who are taking multiple medications or mixing medications, even NSAIDs and opioids, It could have been the NSAIDs that gave you internal bleeding, but they blame it on opioids only," Ingle said.
The annual pain week symposium held in Las Vegas was missing many familiar faces this year. Pain doctors are shutting down their practices out of fear they will be prosecuted.
Pain pioneer Dr. Forrest Tennant earned a lifetime achievement award one year ago. Now, his practice is shut down. Not because he was charged with any crime, but merely because he was served a search warrant. That kind of news spreads fast among doctors.
"We already know patients are having trouble finding doctors willing to treat them, especially in rural areas -- pain management doctors are extremely hard to find," said Pat Anson, Pain News Network. "And if they are abandoning their practice and doing whatever they can do safely, who is going to treat the pain patient of the future from the standpoint of the patient, they are being abandoned. From the standpoint of the doctor, they could be going to jail if they don't stop prescribing, o what choice do they have?"
Since January when a new state law kicked in, Nevada doctors have sought clarification from the medical board about what the crackdown means here. At its most recent meeting, the board approved general guidelines that are far less Draconian than in other states, but the required paperwork is burdensome, and patients are being cut back regardless of their individual medical needs.
"I had my pain management physician involuntary taper me down to 90 MMEs and their entire amount of patient; they had like 300 patients and told me they were going to taper all of them down to 90. We're all in pain because of it," said Rick Martin, patient advocate.
Martin says the worst may come in January when new federal guidelines give pharmacies and insurance providers more power to overrule no matter what a doctor might prescribe,
"The insurance company is basically got a prescription pad and a white coat now, telling the legislators and doctors what to do," Martin said. "The patient-doctor relationship is shattered."
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