Letter: New opioid regulations punish pain sufferers

The Detroit News

I suffer from chronic pain (spinal stenosis).

In Michigan, like other states, patients with intractable pain have been losing access to appropriate care. A 2018 survey by University of Michigan's Center for Health and Research Transformation found over 35% of the state’s residents say they experienced chronic pain which limits their lives or work within the last years.

Some chronic pain patients suffer intractable, incurable pain that may require opioid medication because nothing else works.

OxyContin pills

Now, 40% of primary care practices are no longer seeing patients with pain or utilizing opioids. Practitioners express increasing discomfort to manage opioid therapy for chronic pain patients due to legislative and regulatory pressures to diminish prescribing. Consequently, patients are being discharged from practices, unable to find new providers and experiencing abrupt discontinuation from medications they have safely taken for years. They are stigmatized as “addicts”, lose care without warning, have their dosages force tapered, and suffer increased pain.

This year, several governmental agencies, including the CDC itself, have affirmed that the earlier 2016 CDC chronic pain guideline was misinterpreted and misapplied by many states. Patients suffering pain from cancer, in hospice care, and in palliative care, were to be excluded under the 2016 CDC Chronic Pain guideline. The CDC and FDA also stated that harm, including severe withdrawal symptoms and suicide, has been occurring to patients who are abruptly being discontinued from opioid therapy.

Michigan Laws passed in 2017 and accompanying regulations regarding opioid prescribing are creating unintended consequences, including worsening pain and suffering for intractable pain patients. The opioid problem is more complex than is assumed, with several causes, and one-sided solutions focused on oversight of prescription medicines do not work effectively. There is a need to find new balance in setting rules for the appropriate management of pain while continuing to mitigate risk for overdose.

The state of Michigan has begun to address the issue, having passed an exemption in 2019 from its 2017 law for pain patients in hospice who are dying. The next step is to craft additional legislation and new regulations to address the needs of chronic intractable pain patients who are not dying.

Let’s strike a better balance and serve everyone in Michigan, including patients with intractable and incurable pain. Come join the Michigan Don’t Punish Pain Rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Oct. 16, 2019, 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Learn about the needs of chronic pain patients in Michigan and exchange ideas on how we can better remedy their suffering.

Kenneth Waltzer, organizer

Michigan Don't Punish Pain Rally