Patients With Long Term Pain Feel Stuck in the Middle of the Opioid Debate

According to a story from Kaiser Health News, many patients that are dealing with chronic pain feel stuck in the debate over opioids in the US. As the ongoing crisis of overdose deaths from abusing these drugs continues to worsen, some states are passing laws to restrict and regulate the use of these pain killers. While some of these laws may help curtail the increase in deaths linked to opioid abuse, they can also lead to some patients not getting the relief that they need.

Rare Patients Caught in the Crossfire

Take the case of Shannon Hubbard. She has complex regional pain syndrome, a long term illness that is notorious for the bouts of extreme, burning pain that it can inflict on patients. She first got the unusual disease after receiving surgery to treat an ankle injury she got during army training. For Shannon, her disease is debilitating and makes it difficult for her to move around and walk normally. Often, this is simply because of the excruciating nature of the pain that she experiences.

At this juncture, Shannon says that she has tried 60 different drugs to treat her pain, and none of them has resolved it. Her best results so far have been with opioids, which at least make the sensation bearable. For a time, she had a prescription for both short and long acting opioids, but a new Arizona law which restricts prescriptions and dosing meant that she lost access to one of them. The dual treatment had granted her enough relief to feel comfortable leaving her home and starting up physical therapy.

The Long Arm of the Law

Unfortunately, the legal dose limit set under the new law simply is not enough for Shannon’s pain to subside. She is not alone either; a good number of patients who were receiving higher doses before (without any noticeable problems) the law passed simply cannot get the pain relief they experienced previously. Dr. Julian Grove, a pain specialist in Arizona, says the new law is the result of a misinterpreted understanding of hypervigilance guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and Pervention in 2016.

This document recommends dialing back opioid dosage on a case by case basis, not by a blanket policy that affects all users of a certain drug. The restrictions also fail to account for the fact that a higher percentage of opioid overdoses are now being linked to illegal drugs than before. This could mean that the policy is hurting patients like Shannon more than it is helping addicts.


Check out our partners, Burning Nights, to learn more about resources for people with CRPS.

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