While thousands of people are dying every year from opioid overdoses, those who depend on pain management argue that no one is talking about them.
Debilitating pain has been a part of Raymond Kuykendall’s life for nearly 30 years. The simple act of bending over to feed his dog is difficult.
He was a laborer and fell from a bridge when the Interstate 275/Interstate 40 flyover was under construction 30 years ago. It took more than a year before he could sit in a chair without being in a full body cast.
“I shattered my whole left side. It was like pick up sticks on the X-ray,” he said.
Kuykendall broke his back, lost a kidney, and suffered other internal injuries.
“They told my family for three days that I wouldn’t live,” Kuykendall said.
To relieve his pain, Kuykendall was prescribed by his doctor a cocktail of opioids, which became stronger and stronger every year. In July of this year, when Tennessee enacted one of the strictest opioid policies in the country, Kuykendall said his quality of life changed as his daily meds were cut back.
Kuykendall says he takes 30 milligrams of oxycodone four times a day, which is 60 milligrams less per day than what he used to take.
“It’s affected me in everything. Doing house chores, just getting through in life,” he said.
Steve Glass shared a similar story in August. He can’t get out of a chair without pain. Disabled for 27 years following a series of back surgeries, Glass has chronic, constant pain which affects him emotionally, physically and psychology.
To ease his debilitation, his doctors prescribed 15 mg of oxycodone and 10 mg of Oxycontin.
“This is one third of what I was taking before the cuts in the medicine of everyone,” he said. “My quality of life has crashed.”
With changes in his pain management, Kuykendall believes he’s paying the price for the abuse by others.
“I just don’t see where it is my fault that people are overdosing on opioids, when I take mine the way I’m supposed to,” he said. “I’m the one that got cut back on my pain medicine because of all the other people out here doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing.”
More Tennesseans died last year from drug overdoses than from automobile crashes. Department of Health records show 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2017. Prescription opioids are the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths which is one of the reasons why Tennessee has cracked down on the opioid epidemic.
However, Steve Glass believes those with chronic pain, due to their serious health issues, should be exempt from strict legislation. Raymond Kuykendall holds the same opinion.
“I don’t think the government ought to be the one to dictate to the doctors what they can prescribe,” said Kuykendall.
“We’re dying, like the people who are overdosing. It’s just slower,” said Glass.
Just a few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration enacted what’s called the SUPPORT Act. In the legislation, the FDA supports developing drugs to treat pain that are not addictive, as well as the need to better understand the safety of existing opiods, to treat those millions of people with chronic pain.
Those who fit that category say living with unrelenting pain and not receiving the care they deserve, needs to be addressed. They argue the pain crisis has been ignored too long due to the opioid crisis.