KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The same regulations that fight misuse of pain medication can make life tough for the people who need the medication.
The problem affects many people. Several tell 6 News they have a tough time getting treatment. Doctors say they are concerned about losing their licenses. Pharmacists are worried about their ability to dispense medication.
"It is a road I would not wish on anybody," said pain patient Vickie Kelley.
She has pins and plates in her back and neck after a work-related injury several years ago.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, my pain is usually at about 7," she said.
For years, Kelley was being treated in West Tennessee. She moved in April to Knoxville to be closer to her daughter, Luann Childress.
"After I moved here I had to fight a real battle," Kelley said.
Because she was already on pain medication, Kelley says, it was almost impossible to get an appointment with a new physician.
"It was a real struggle, because if she's sick, she needs to see a doctor. And no one wanted to see her because she's on pain medication," said Childress, about the months she spent trying to help her mother get treated.
There is a reason clinics are careful about seeing patients like Kelley.
Dr. Anthony Wilson at UT Medical Center says doctors have everything to lose.
"The penalties can include the loss of your medical license and the loss of your career," Dr. Wilson explained.
Dr. Wilson is among many doctors who have to adhere to the constantly tightening rules. Just this year for example, Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Prescription Safety Act of 2012. The law makes it mandatory for doctors to check every patient in a state database.
"I'm required to go into the database. I type in the patient's name and date of birth. And I search to see if there are any medications they've had filled recently," Dr. Wilson said.
Patients like Kelley, who filled her prescription in one part of the state, and then moved, would raise a red flag.
"There are some people who misuse medication, but I'm not one of them," Kelley said about her frustration.
The issues with getting treated do not end there. Pharmacies are also cracking down.
At Blount Discount Pharmacy for example, pharmacists are no longer filling prescriptions for any new pain patients. If they give out too much, they risk being shut down.
"Unfortunately due to the nature of the industry and where we are today, we are not accepting any new pain clinic patients. We can't risk losing the ability to meet the needs of the patients that we already have," says pharmacist Phil LaFoy.
To be careful, pharmacists also run each patient through a state database. Pharmacists also talk to the person getting the medication, to double check they are not misusing the drugs.
Despite the extra work, their efforts are sometimes in vain
"Some of the prescriptions filled, we've seen them sold in the parking lot," explained LaFoy.
The misuse brings us back to people like Kelley and her struggle to get treated for a genuine medical condition. Kelley was finally able to get an appointment with a doctor, but he is nearly an hour away from her.
"The thing now is to get a medical doctor who is closer so I don't have to depend on my daughter to take me," Kelley said.
Dr. Wilson says in the end, if you have a legitimate problem, you will get the pills you need.
"The law is not designed to keep medications away from people who legitimately need this kind of medication," said Dr. Wilson.
Working through the system and jumping through the hoops takes time and patience. When you can no longer bear the feeling of living in your body, those are virtues that do not come easily.
"They need to find some solution to this problem, for the people who really need pills," Kelley said.
Another aspect to this story is how people on pain pills say they are treated. We spoke to many who say there is a social stigma attached to people on this type of medication.
Even though some pain patients have genuine problems, they feel because of the added scrutiny, they are viewed as addicts.