LAS VEGAS - Some pain patients face many hurdles to get the medicine they need and one of those hurdles is at the pharmacy.
Pain patients want their medicine and the pharmacies want to stay out of trouble.
Patients says they've been treated more like drug addicts rather than customers who need to manage their pain.
The I-Team tagged along with one woman who was going to fill her medication. She wants to help expose a problem that many pain patients face across the country.
She asked not to be identified because she doesn't want to jeopardize her chances of getting her pain medicine in the future.
She says she is often made to feel like a drug addict when filling her prescriptions.
"Yeah, because they all give you that look. Like here we go. Another drug addict looking to get their pills," she said.
She says a work injury led to six surgeries which resulted in little improvement and chronic pain. She fills a prescription for her pain meds once a month which can be a challenge.
The I-Team put a hidden microphone on her and witnessed her going to one pharmacy.
"They tell me that they can't fill my medications today," she said.
So she went to another where she was rejected
"I'm offended because I wouldn't be going in and getting my medication if I didn't need it."
During the undercover exchange between the patient and a pharmacy employee, the woman was told the following by the pharmacy worker:
"We would have to call your doctor and to verify them first, because it is a high, we're not familiar with the ... high doses of medications. I can't guarantee so we'd have to talk to your doctor to see why they're being prescribed and --- it's one of the more strict locations."
Finally at a third pharmacy, her prescription was filled.
Pharmacies in general are more strict. The I-Team's investigation has uncovered some pharmacies are putting caps on the number of pain prescriptions they will fill and turn legitimate pain patients away more and more as a result of the proclaimed opioid crisis.
"Our culture has evolved to a point where you have to be anti-opioid which means a lot of people are suffering," said Dr. Lynn Webster.
The mega-chain CVS announced a new plan to start in Feb. 2018 which would limit the supply of opioids for patients by giving them medication for seven days only.
The CDC refers to pharmacists as the first line of defense. And the I-Team has learned there's a black list in some pharmacies naming doctors suspected of writing prescriptions for too many opioids.
The I-Team rode along with Dr. Maurice Gregory as he visited pain patients.
"I try to communicate with the pharmacists, send them material about dosing, the guidelines, the real numbers," he said. "I give them what I'm looking at. I don't know if that gets me off the blacklist."
The prescription gets a closer look and so do the patients.
Gregory says pharmacists often use their own patient profiling system and make decisions about who gets medicine and who does not based on personal appearance factors.
"Our last patient got a haircut, shirt tucked in. He wants to have pride, should a person look disheveled? And if they look disheveled, they'll say this person looks like he came in off the street. Did they steal this script?" Gregory said.
"Essentially pharmacies, acting or reacting to a massive social crisis where there's a lot of fear, a lot of regulation, and a lot of attention," said Dr. Stefan Kertesz, University of Alabama at Birmigham.
"That pharmacy behind the window is Lord God almighty. They can do whatever they want with that individual prescription," said Dr. Forest Tennant.
For the unidentified patient in this story, a prescription means less pain and a better life, she says.
According to the Nevada Board of Pharmacy, by law, pharmacists have a right to refuse prescriptions, and starting in January, there will be more red tape for pain patients. All controlled substance prescriptions must include a code for the diagnosis. If it's not on there, the prescription can't be filled.
More information, stories and links in a special section #OurPain.
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