Opioids: a think tank to expose the deep-rooted failures and injustices in our health care system


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STAT is “a new national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery” in partnership with the Lown Institute.

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“The Lown Institute is a think tank dedicated to research and public communication to expose the deep-rooted failures and injustices in our health care system, and to helping clinicians, patients, and communities develop a shared vision for a better health system.”

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.“Since 2012, the Lown Institute has been a leading voice in the movement to recognize the harms of overuse of medical care, and in pointing out the clear connection between wasteful medical treatment and our system’s failure to deliver needed care.”

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This article from STAT, excerpted below, beautifully and painfully describes the opposing sides of the deep divide in our country about treatment with opioid analgesics for chronic pain. It is a divide deeper than the growing upheaval of politics in America, and it is unique to us. The United States, with 5% of the world’s population, consumes 80% of the global opioid supply, and an estimated 99% of hydrocodone. “Pain drugs are the second-largest pharmaceutical class globally, after cancer medicines.”

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I have seen both sides, those who cannot live or function without opioids and those whose pain improves radically once they taper off. The war on patients plays out many times daily, while patients and doctors alike are deeply concerned at the lack of research in this volatile unpredictable field, where patients are subjected to whack-a-dose prescriptions since the March 2016 CDC fiat that dictated slashed opioid dosages, a dictate that now entitles insurers to deny all medication overnight —saving them tremendous costs. All denied, no matter how small the dose, nor how intense the diagnoses and pain.

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This irrational, inhumane, and unpredictable disease of change has become a constant, destroying lives of patients and caregivers while addicts continue to overdose evermore and prisons are filled with low level street corner dealers —never the rich who buy their way out of prison. Cheating is a way of life for corporations, condoned by congress.

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A ‘civil war’ over painkillers rips apart the medical community — and leaves patients in fear

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — For Thomas P. Yacoe, the word is “terrifying.”

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Leah Hemberry describes it as “constant fear.”

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For Michael Tausig Jr., the terror is “beyond description.”

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All three are patients struggling with chronic pain, but what they are describing is not physical agony but a war inside the medical community that is threatening their access to painkillers — and, by extension, their work, their relationships, and their sanity.

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Two years after the United States saw a record 27,000 deaths involving prescription opioid medications and heroin, doctors and regulators are sharply restricting access to drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. But as the pendulum swings in the other direction, many patients who genuinely need drugs to manage their pain say they are being left behind.

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Doctors can’t agree on how to help them.

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There’s a civil war in the pain community [my emphasis],” said Dr. Daniel B. Carr, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “One group believes the primary goal of pain treatment is curtailing opioid prescribing. The other group looks at the disability, the human suffering, the expense of chronic pain.”

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Pain specialists say there is little civil about this war.

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“There’s almost a McCarthyism on this, that’s silencing so many people who are simply scared,” said Dr. Sean Mackey, who oversees Stanford University’s pain management program.

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“The thing is, we all want black and white. We don’t do well with nuance. And this is an incredibly nuanced issue.”

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Stanford’s Mackey said those risks are important to recognize. But, he said, nearly 15,000 people die a year from anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. “People aren’t talking about that,” he said….

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…Dr. Anna Lembke, who practices alongside Mackey at Stanford’s pain clinic and is chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, published a book about the opioid crisis last year. It was titled: “Drug Dealer, MD: How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop.

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Lembke believes that long-term opioid use can cause patients to perceive pain even after the original cause of pain has cleared. Some patients, she said, find themselves free of pain only once they have endured the often agonizing effects of opioid withdrawal.

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“That’s what we’re seeing again and again,” she said.

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…. a single father of two teens, said that every month he needs to fill a prescription, he’s fearful it will be denied.

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Mackey says doctors being trained at Stanford’s pain center have grown increasingly fearful about prescribing opioids...

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[Dr. Mackey describes a practicing 81 year old physician who cycled to work until recent back surgery. His life is now complicated by severe back pain and he requires opioids to continue to function.]

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“If you’re 81 and you stop getting out of bed, it’s a slippery slope,” he said.

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only.
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It is not legal for me to provide medical advice without an examination.

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It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.

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2 Responses to “Opioids: a think tank to expose the deep-rooted failures and injustices in our health care system”

  1. Christine Metzger Says:

    Thank you for being there for patients and for advocating research. I have had CRPS in left foot and spread to lower limb and was on many different trials of medications but was prescribe oxycodone IR 40 mg daily for 7 years. It has taken me 7 months with slot of periods of being sick not sleeping no energy and multiple symptoms even with this slow taper. Just got off but my pain down from 6 to 3 Just using Trazodone but not sure about that. Anyway I just want to encourage all that at 66 years old you can still try to get off these meds. If I had any idea it would take this long I would have gone to treatment center. I’m a nurse practitioner who retired right before decision to stop. I would not have been able to work even on this long taper Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Nancy Sajben MD Says:

      Wonderful. Thank you for details. If I read correctly, your pain was reduced from 6 to 3 just from tapering off opioids — long difficult taper but thank goodness you did it.

      There are two medications that help opioid withdrawal: alpha blockers such as catapress (clonidine) only as needed, and Cannabis (MMJ).


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