Opioid crackdown: Doctors like Prairie Dogs. 77,000 prosecuted after 1916 opioid crackdown


 

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PAIN AFFECTS

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MORE PEOPLE THAN

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DIABETES, CANCER & HEART DISEASE

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COMBINED

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 opioid “guidance” = opioid crackdown

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Like the Oxycontin crackdown of 2002 when doctors where thrown in jail.

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“Doctors are like prairie dogs.”

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124,000 physicians

registered in opioid crackdown of 1916 – NOT suicides. Forgive me!

During the first fourteen years after the Harrison Act passed,

U.S. attorneys prosecuted more than 77,000 people, most of them medical professionals.

 

 

 

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Another round of opioid hysteria. This sharp CDC cutback to patient opioids, called OPIOID “GUIDELINES” in California – let’s call a spade a spade, this threat is deadly, its sickening and it’s crushing my heart. $1.1 billion for opioid abuse – how much will go to DEA to investigate and prosecute doctors? Time does not permit review of the Cato Executive Summary in 2005:

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Treating Doctors as Drug Dealers

The DEA’s War on Prescription Painkillers

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that details many prosecutions of well meaning doctors across the country from every wave of threats. Suffice some quotes:

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 “A 2001 study of doctors found that 40% said their fear of an investigation affected how they treated chronic pain.”

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“One 1991 study in Wisconsin, for example, found that over half the doctors surveyed knowingly undertreated pain in their patients out of fear of retaliation from regulators.”

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“A final problem with the DEA’s claims of an OxyContin epidemic is the agency’s inflated estimate of risk of death. In 2000 physicians wrote 7.1 million prescriptions for oxycodone products without aspirin or Tylenol, 5.8 million of them for OxyContin.

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According to the DEA’s own autopsy data, there were 146 “OxyContin-verified deaths” that year, and 318 “OxyContin-likely deaths,” for a total of 464 “OxyContin-related deaths.”

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That amounts to a risk of just 0.00008 percent, or eight deaths per 100,000 OxyContin prescriptions—2.5 “verified,” and 5.5 “likely-related.” Even those figures are calculated only after taking the DEA’s troubling conclusions about causation at face value.

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By contrast, approximately 16,500 people die each year from gastrointestinal bleeding associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen.

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NSAIDS aren’t as effective as opioids at treating severe, chronic pain. Both classes of painkillers have beneficial medical uses. One is also found on the black market and may lead to occasional deaths by overdose. The other isn’t used recreationally, but causes 35 times more deaths per year.”

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The DEA’s Diversion Control Program is also a self-financing, autonomous law enforcement agency that is largely unaccountable to congressional oversight.

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American Pain Association guidelines warn against prescribing NSAIDS for those above age 60. Risk of cardiac arrhythmias, GI bleed, heart attack, death are too high, not to mention kidney failure.

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I feel the burn. No happiness engineers to edit. Delete this page tomorrow. The good news, mentioning being hacked – front page of website, missing for 15+ hours, now reappeared.

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They have the balls to call it “guideline” and the balls to threaten doctors, but not the balls to call it law. Tell me how it differs from law? History knows a government threat when it hears one.

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Remember a report written 2002 about the nationwide Oxycontin crackdowns occurring then? Damien Cave, writing in Salon, went on to write for Rolling Stone and New York Times international and national desk. 

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“Doctors were the earliest targets of prescription drug panic: As early as 1914, with the passage of the Harrison Narcotic Act, the government identified doctors as agents of addiction who needed to be controlled if narcotic abuse was to be abolished. The law, refined by a Supreme Court decision in 1919, made it illegal for doctors to prescribe opioids to addicted patients and required doctors who prescribed the drugs to register with the IRS.”

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Doctors then as now avoid patients with pain. Too hot to be near the fire.

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You doctors. You agents of addiction.

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“But doctors have blanched at the sweeping changes and proposed bans, and their panic has only increased in the wake of cases like that of Dudley Hall, a Bridgeport, Conn., doctor charged July 17, 2001, with 36 counts of over-prescribing. Sure, they argue, Dr. Hall, who prescribed more OxyContin that any other doctor in his state, (earning the title Dr. Feelgood), deserves to be prosecuted. But Hall was busted by officers posing as patients, and doctors fear that undercover operations will become the norm. The new laws, say doctors, even if they didn’t lead directly to Hall’s arrest, make police especially brash, far too confident in their ability to decide which prescriptions are valid or invalid. “

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“Just the specter of law enforcement meddling in medicine has been enough to cause physicians to drop needy patients, says Michael Brennan, a pain management doctor who manages a private pain clinic in Fairfield, Conn., a wealthy town only a few miles from where Hall was charged.”

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“Doctors are like prairie dogs,” he says. “One or two will stick their heads up, but as soon as something bad happens to them, they all go underground.”

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….”But Brennan argues that the increased presence of law enforcement is hard to dismiss. In fact, he says that he’s still reeling from an unexpected visit by the DEA around Thanksgiving. Though he’s strict about whom he’ll write prescriptions for — he regularly meets with family members to ensure that abuse isn’t occurring — he says that “every time I see a big blue Suburban come by my office, I’m like ‘Oh man, I hope they’re not coming for me.’”

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Economic stagnation is nothing compared to government threat, surveillance, and disappearing colleagues. 

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Now let’s air some of the negative —but stay strong as you read. Caution! Stop reading now if you feel vulnerable. To those who read on: Do not let yourself be swallowed by hopelessness and depression. The mind is more powerful than we can imagine. We must be taught to use its skills, every tool that has been brought to us. There have been decades of mind-body work treating pain without pills. Without pills. Wake up America. It’s real. Centuries of ancient techniques. You and I can learn to use our minds and find other tools. Think positive. Do it. Doctors too – do it. It’s real.

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We all admit the bad headlines, the 18,000 plus deaths from opioids in 2014 – addicts or suicides? the stories of everyday opioid abuse by millions of Americans with pain, whose abuses as painted by zealous anti-opioidists are disturbing headlines. Government officials easily find good reason to cut opioid doses. But it’s still a radical nationwide experiment on lives of people with chronic pain who may be too disabled to fight back.

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Reality: Surveillance. Kills trust.

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I feel awful all day after I had to try to cut opioid dose on a man whose back pain, neuropathic pain shooting into his legs, his bad knees, bad shoulders hurt bad. They hurt real bad. Bad for maybe 25 years. I must cut his doses radically. DOCTORS WHO TREAT PAIN ARE THREATENED UNLESS THEY CAUSE PAIN AND SUFFERING. I have never felt such pain in my life. It feels slick and unethical – it must be unethical to cause suffering. I have posted a bit on ethics of informed consent, tampering with patient autonomy, profound issues published by Michael Schatman, PhD. Patients have no choice. There is no informed consent. Can you imagine what it feels like to taper opioids?

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It is against my ethics to inflict harm on patients. How am I expected to challenge a person who uses opioids as anxiolytics? Can they get through life without them? What if they don’t want to be challenged on the delusion that opioids help? They refuse to work with a therapist. This has been their pattern for 25 years, long before they first saw me. I don’t think I see anyone like this, but what if I did? Can I inflict pain on them? Are all my patients perfect – they never reaching for an opioid when using better coping skills at moments of stress and high pain?

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What kind of chauvinism is this medical care I am being threatened to do? I am told to blindly turn away from the pain I am causing. March in step with politicians who cannot ignore voters agitating against the heroin crisis of suburbia and the middle class. Politicians and doctors who publish guidelines don’t have to face my patients, don’t feel their pain. Addiction is on front pages. Deaths from opioids in headlines. Trillions on the war on drugs merely fuels the fire. 

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Opioid cutbacks feel like marching orders – and it cracks my mind to attention. I know the power this government has and we all hear about too many local pain doctors who have lost everything. Investigations. Disappearances. You don’t always know. Lurking agents. Constant threat surveillance will pull you in.

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This lump in my throat and awful heaviness in the heart remains. I had to cut back a good man’s opioid dose today. I have tried to give him the options to cut back on his own; month after month he has not. The pain is killing him. He is not an addict. Far from it. I suffer looking at him as he tries to sit in a chair. But opioids cause his central sleep apnea. That complicates, perhaps caused, a rare form of congestive heart disease that stumped a number of top doctors. He’s gotta get off the opioids, they are literally killing him. So is the pain. Pain is killing him. He picked comfort care, some relief, any relief, and I probably would too, were I in half the pain he is in all the time for decades. What will be the strain on his heart to go through opioid cutback that uncovers nothing but higher levels of pain? and for what, to have life shortened because of more pain and fewer opioids or ….or….have life shortened with more access to opioids? Life is short and then we die. Which is the better death? He is not hospice eligible. Chronic pain is not a terminal disease. Can you guess if his level of pain will go down or up after cutting his dose? Pain has so compromised his life, disabled for years, now his government is cutting doses nationwide. He fought in our wars, and later worked as a federal executive, but disabled since the 90’s, since he was in his 40’s. His body feels 20 years older than it is. he has more kinds of pain than you have fingers on one hand, and sees a doctor every day of the week for his other medical problems. Integrative pain management failed to help pain 12 years ago. Any exertion makes him short of breath – heart failure. Even physical therapy is too much.

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It’s killing me to know I have to do this again and again to keep cutting his dose, month after month, and to do this to other good people. I know what will happen if I don’t. Other doctors hounded by investigations, audits, depositions, chart reviews, by government agencies, hearings, years in limbo, then to face court costing $300,000 or more. Attorney’s and specialists fees all scrutinize your patient and your work. Liability insurance may cover only $25,000 for the MD. But insurance may not cover DEA issues, doc. Insurance liability is for patient care, not for government regs.

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Heartless. How can any doctor keep the heart dissociated from the knowledge that you must do this, or else? I heard the fear from colleagues at this 16 hour conference this weekend on opioid guidelines. There are family doctors, psychiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, anesthesiologists, dentists – yes they treat chronic pain, pain specialists having to face patients in their care whom they have known for years. Just how are they to purposefully and personally harm each one? No one talked about how. 

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When has there been good mental health care in this country? Will the government offer counseling to patients and their doctors for this tsunami of pain and suffering? What if insurance does not cover costs of therapy? Insurers are never straddled with obligations – that’s not a business model. Profit, baby. Medical ethics are not a business model. 

 

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I’ve recently been called by patients looking for a new pain doctor. Somebody shut down or bought out a previous pain doctor in town – a very good specialist. Now his old patients are desperate to find a pain specialist to continue their opioids because the new owners will not write those prior doses. New pain specialists have cut back the opioid doses and it’s too much. Patients cannot cope and cannot turn to those doctors for mercy. Patients are afraid. I turned them away because I do not write those doses and I don’t know them. How can I tell if they had episodes of abusing their opioid, often showing up with none left? Is that why they were cut back? Was it as arbitrary as they convey? When you hear it from several patients, you suspect it was arbitrary and across the board, but you don’t know. Are they drug seeking? Addicts? DEA agents undercover flushing out pill doctors?

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If patients have not suffered mood disorders yet, they will when drugs are cut and mind is rebelling. Patients do not understand why it is essential they work on emotional coping skills with a professional. Men! seniors! Women! I am talking about you. Serious work. We all need help when we choose a pill over mind power. Pills dull the mind, can choke off oxygen at night, and cause more inflammation and more pain. Americans are too soft. I’m right in there with the rest of you. I need to train the mind to take control – it’s hard even when I don’t have pain. At least you/we/all must remove fear – if you have fear, it triggers more pain.

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The mind is more powerful than we can imagine. We must be taught to use its skills.

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Whether you see a therapist or not, talk to yourself about how to get creative with mind power. Do not let your mind get sucked into pain when you have the power to reduce pain – now. Stanford showed this with fMRI a few years ago. On screen, you can watch your own brain eat glucose in areas of brain. They light up in some regions when you tell your mind to raise your pain to 10 on scale of 10. And light up differently when you tell your mind to reduce pain to zero. This is true direct biofeedback. So use indirect temperature control, or pulse control, train your mind. OK, be a wimp for awhile, but then brace yourself and do the work anyhow. Train the mind.

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However cutting doses of pain medicine.

Heartless brutes!

I feel like a heartless brute.

HOW CAN YOU KEEP YOUR HEART FROM SUFFERING THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU MUST DO THIS OR ELSE!

DO YOU TRUST THIS GOVERNMENT TO HELP? 

The attitude of American voters, especially Congress, toward patients in pain is one of denial. Just like the denial of affordable changes in the American healthcare system rather than the splurges and splashes of increasingly costly, unaffordable hospital tech within reach to anybody with certain insurance. Everything at any cost. Not for pain relief. Not for everyone.

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We’ve gone through years of radical push to raise opioid doses, believing opioids could help. We did not know the harm of pain medicines. Nor do we still. But whose lobbyists have prevented NIH from funding pain research? Or is it the American way – we care so little even to help our injured veterans. Has anything been invested in the treatment of their chronic pain that adds so much to physical and emotional disability?

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There has been no change in approach to treating pain since 1991 when, nationwide, the interdisciplinary pain centers were shut down – why would any university be stradled with such a money pit? I was at UCLA on the Anesthesiology Interdisciplinary Pain Service when it happened. UCLA fired the President of the American Pain Society, and the soon-to-be President of the American Pain Society, pioneers and outstanding practitioners in this new field that had been born at UCLA somewhere in early 1980’s and actually mid 1970’s. All across the country, by 1991, closed pain clinics swept like a wave and I heard about it only whispered in the halls in Vancouver at the International Association for the Study of Pain, the IASP. Not a word in public to the audience or young doctors in training or anyone. Shhhhhhh. Why the hush hush? Fear of the unknown new era?

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Contracts, teaching appointments were torn up over night. Thousands of pain centers closed forever. No one cares.

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PAIN AFFECTS

MORE PEOPLE THAN

DIABETES, CANCER & HEART DISEASE COMBINED

 

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Pain is denied in the United States. Buck up. Machismo is the attitude. You lie to your fellow church members and office workers, and tell them you are “fine.” You know they don’t give a hoot about how you really are. You don’t  like to use the word suffer to yourself, there’s so much pain that you cannot stay in bed for hours in the middle of the night. We all see patients lie when they deny they are thinking of suicide because that pain has been untreatable. You can’t cut the thickness of the air with a knife. You feel it deep in your soul. What is there for help that has not already been explored? These are the toughest of the tough, everything tried, but the mechanics of damaged joints when the pieces and parts start crashing, the body feels decades older than you are.

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PAIN AFFECTS MORE PEOPLE THAN

DIABETES, CANCER & HEART DISEASE COMBINED

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This radical experiment to radically cut opioid doses, heartlessly.

Sigh.

No data to show the crisis you will see on every level.

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CDC opioid cuts will cause damage that should make headlines.

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Social scientists, time now to submit your RO1 NIH grants  to begin studying the crises when they unleash the opioid guidelines from CDC and in every state, then they will tighten the noose. Study what will happen.

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Patients will be forced to quit jobs they were barely holding onto despite all the pain. The wave of losses of lives, homes, jobs, health, emotions, friends, spouses. Barely able to push depression away. It is hard to make the brain focus on anything. Work, disability, early retirements, depression, bankruptcy. That is what can happen.

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Ideally, the study should be offered to the most distinguished, as an NIH Special Scholars Grant to study this radical cut in opioids.

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WE NEED A STUDY TO SHOW HARM & BENEFIT.

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BEFORE

NUMBER – at least 5,000  to get meaningful data?

Ask statisticians for an n – to power significant data end points.

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It has to be a huge detailed meaningful study. Pain and war on drugs is costing our healthcare system and costing lives.

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AFTER OPIOID CUTS

Repeat study every year for 3 to 5 years.

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Or just do what California has done: cut dose to 80 mg morphine equivalent. Or what CDC plans nationwide. Ignore the downfall.

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I am just too sad and repulsed to think of doing this to a human soul, again and again. Today has scorched my heart and soul. We took a step down. It’s too painful to think about. Too disgusted for tears.

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too dreary to read

will probably delete this tomorrow

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This site is not for email.

If any questions, please schedule an appointment with my office.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.

It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment

provided by a qualified health care provider.

Relevant comments are welcome.

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For My Home Page, click here:  Welcome to my Weblog on Pain Management!

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Please be aware any advertising on this free educational website is

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5 Responses to “Opioid crackdown: Doctors like Prairie Dogs. 77,000 prosecuted after 1916 opioid crackdown”

  1. Bob Schubring Says:

    Doctor, thank you for your rant.

    That needed to be said.

    Now it needs to be understood.

    Voters must severely punish politicians for enacting these stupid policies.

  2. chiquitar Says:

    I just wanted to leave my personal notes about stopping morhine extended release. I have had CRPS for 7 years now. I started morphine 4 or 5 years ago after my new counselor had me fill out an hourly pain journal. We found that I waited until I hit a 6 or 7 before taking vicodin (hate the side effects) and it would take so long to start working I would often end up with a full-body pain flare. With my doctor’s permission, I tried anticipating high-pain periods (was not helpful) and then taking my doses on a timed schedule with alarms. Because the latter worked best but made my pain score bounce up and down around predictably before and after scheduled doses, my doctor put me on the extended release.

    Tolerance/physical dependence quickly became a problem. I could get 3-6 months on a given dose before I would end up in just as much pain as before the last increase and maxing out my breakthrough hydrocodone just to break even–liie Alice and the Red Queen, running as fast as they could just to stand still. When I had exhausted the highest dosage level my doctor was comfortable with, I took it upon myself (not understanding the danger) to taper off the opioids as fast as I could stand and take a couple days without any before restarting at the lowest level. It was a hellish couple of weeks in which I did nothing but try to survive the next minute. I got scolded at my next appointment but I had felt desperate and out if options. My doctor said next time I could just switch opioids to help with tolerance–which we tried instead of the next dosage increase and it didn’t help me at all. By the next time I was maxed out I was seeing a new doctor, who gave me permission to detox more slowly. I went through this cycle every 12-18 months, and it got harder to do each time and I spent more days in helpless withdrawal hell each time too–I even stayed at a friend’s place one detox period because my partner couldn’t take the stress. Finally, I looked up the recommended taper for morphine decreasing and realized to do it safely I should be taking 3 full months to taper all the way off my maxed dosage level. At that rate, the length time spent with improved quality of life was not worth the length of time spent in combined agony of untreated CRPS pain plus withdrawal pain plus the rest of the withdrawal symptoms. So I decided to see if I could live without morphine after all. I finished my final taper ~8 months ago and set a target goal of taking breakthrough hydrocodone no more than 3 days out of any given 7 days, although I do let that flex depending on circumstances.

    I fully expected an increase in my base pain level. Instead, I had my first pain-free moment since my injury. I started increasing my activity level, and moments turned to minutes and then entire single hours at a time that I wasn’t in pain–not every day, but more than once a week. (Of course I am now in an insurance battle that has me back down to minutes, but now that I know they are possible I can stay motivated to manage my stress and try to get my hours back.) I think it is horrible that our options for pain management have been cut so heartlessly, and I am so glad your patients have such a feeling advocate in you. But for patients who are tolerant, any arbitrary dosage maximum is functionally the same in the long term– it does nothing for our pain once our bodies have fully adjusted to the dose and may even make it worse, it makes the opioid breakthrough medication nearly worthless, and it comes with many nasty side effects. Perhaps you will find more patients like me who are better off without it.

    I am still taking several management medications I am fighting tooth and nail to keep taking. However, I think the fear, suffering, and other psycholgical aspects of my disease (and all chronic pain) are quite possibly the worst part. I had a wonderful yoga therapist as well as a wonderful mental health counselor who both helped me find a different way to frame my current state of being, approaching pain more neutrally and working on living more mindfully. Without this training I would have been far too fearful to try life without morphine. All pain patients should have access to the psychological tools to deal with the ways pain can affect our mental health and our relationships. Meditation should be prescribed by every pain management doctor–it should be no more weird than brushing your teeth every night. Not the most fun part of your day but not worth the consequences when neglected. And we chronic pain patients, desperate enough to try just about any pill or surgery, should be desperate enough to try some meditation exercises. I hope you can indeed use this setback as an opportunity to help push your patients to more well-rounded care. Keep trying and please don’t give up on us. We need advocates more than ever!

    • Nancy Sajben MD Says:

      Your experience is so much appreciated. Thank you so much for telling others.

      The work I’ve done for 15 years agrees, especially for those with CRPS but many other pain syndromes too: tapering patients off opioids and then —then—adding glial modulators to bring pain to zero. Opioids can never do that.

      I could give so many case reports, all based on scientific mechanisms published in the literature. No coverage at all for compounded medications that do this work. Insurance funnels everyone into taking what is covered: opioids.

      But nothing is 100%. Cranial neuropathies are the among the most difficult.

      So little research funding for pain, trillions for War on Drugs that keeps alive the war on doctors – electronic surveillance is alive and well in medicine.

  3. leetaylordoes Says:

    Dr. Sabjen,

    I am grateful for your work and posts. I am also a software developer. I’m happy to help restore your site if you need help.

    Best, Lee Taylor

    leetaylordoes.com

    (mobile) >


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