‘I have no quality of life’: Opioid laws have unintended effects, says chronic pain patient

Investigations

Chronic pain patients say they’re being overlooked in the opioid crisis. Because of the crackdown on opioid prescriptions, those who depend on the painkillers say their quality of life has declined.

Beginning July 1, Tennessee enacted one of the most strict and aggressive opioid policies in the nation. Over the objections of the Tennessee Medical Association, the state began limiting initial opioid prescriptions. As a result, those with chronic pain say there are unintended consequences in acquiring effective pain management because of the law.

It’s painful for Steve Glass to get out of a chair.  The former roofer who now lives at his father’s house in Knoxville says people with chronic pain are paying the price of those who abused opioids. 

Disabled for 27 years, following a series of back surgeries, Glass has chronic, constant pain which he says affects him physically, psychologically and emotionally. To alleviate the pain, his doctor prescribes 15 mg of oxycodone and 10 mg of Oxycontin. 

Glass says his dosage has been cut to one third of what it used to be.

“One-third or less. These are the ones demonized the most. There are others, but this is what is always in the news,” said Glass. “My quality of life has crashed.”

Glass says he spends most of his day now bedridden. His only trips are to the bathroom and kitchen. 
He calls his bedroom, “base camp,” where he makes himself comfortable as he grabs a pillow to stuff between his legs, as a form of therapy, to ease the piercing pain. 

“Burning, tingling, numbness which comes straight from my lower back. It’s worse than a toothache. It’s way down deep in my back. It is not something you can touch. It doesn’t hurt to touch it. And the back of my leg. It’s deep in my bones,” he said.

Glass says if only he could receive stronger dosages of opioids, they would provide the pain relief allowing him to function daily. However, the opioid epidemic is viewed as a public health crisis across America.

According to federal records, one in four patients are receiving long-term opioid therapy. The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the crisis is driven by overprescribing. and more disturbing, in Tennessee over 1,600 deaths are related to opioid abuse in the latest reporting period.

Those numbers and studies have left some physicians unwilling to treat patients like Glass who have chronic pain.

“It is so terrible. Even primary care doctors, I have had a hard time finding one, because I feel like I have this big rubber stamp on my head, just like other people I know. And I’ve been treated badly by primary care doctors. I have no quality of life anymore,” said Glass. “It’s hell. I can’t spend time with my family. There is no going out to eat, going to the movies, or the races. That’s done. I can’t do things around the house. The guilt also plays a big factor.”

Glass shared what he would say to lawmakers about the opioid epidemic and how it affects chronic pain patients like himself.

“These guidelines have got to be rolled back for intractable pain patients,” he said. “We’re dying, like the people who are overdosing. It’s just slower.”

Beginning last month, the Food and Drug Administration began holding hearings on chronic pain, listening to people’s stories about their pain and how they may or may not handle it. However, the CDC and FDA do not regulate physicians. States do.

The CDC says patients may have to change their expectations about living with pain.

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