In 2017, in response to the nationwide epidemic, Ohio changed its rules for prescription opioids and many patients who suffer from chronic pain say the new rules are leaving them without pain relief, resulting in unintended consequences such as job loss and even death.
Barbara Schwarz is one such patient. Schwarz suffers from nerve damage and has been taking one half of a low dose opioid pill to take the edge off the pain, so she could continue working. Her husband was also taking prescription opioids for back pain. Schwarz said the new law is making it nearly impossible for her to earn an income.
“The Lyrica, the Gavapantin…that does not help with nerve pain. It might take the edge off. It’s not a cure. It’s a band-aid and there’s no way I could function and work on that. With the two low dose opioids a day, I could function and do my job,” Schwarz said.
Judy Combs said a family member of hers who suffered injuries while serving in the military just gave up the fight. “I had a cousin that took his own life, he was a vet, that was not getting pain medication. All they were doing was treating him with psychotropics which made him worse and he spiraled, and it was not a pretty way to go,” Combs said.
Yet, Republican Governor John Kasich believes the new guidelines, which were developed with input from physicians are effective in helping fight the crisis. They mean more checks to ensure opioids aren’t being abused.
“We want to make sure, in the process of it, we look at other means in which your pain can be relieved. We want to make sure we are not turning you into an addict and we’ve got to monitor you. Those rules are fine,” Kasich said.
“The new law requires that following surgery…we have to check the prescription monitoring program database to see if someone is prescribing pain medicine also,” explained Dr. Roberts, the Chair of the Washington State Medical Commission. “We’ll also reassess and look at the patient to see whether the pain medicine is actually doing what we want it to be doing.” Starting in 2019, all doctors will be required to use the prescription monitoring program.
Reggie Fields with the Ohio State Medical Association said the rules have prompted many doctors to consider alternative treatments for patients they’ve traditionally prescribed opioids. “The rules, the attention, the awareness has actually increased and really helped physicians become much better at being able to determine when using their discretion as to whether or not an opioid is appropriate,” Fields said.
The latest numbers from the state show prescription opioid deaths are at an eight-year low. But, at the same time, the number of unintentional drug deaths rose for the eighth year in a row in 2017. This was due to the deadly opioid fentanyl, which is being mixed with numerous other drugs.
“We are now finding fentanyl mixed in with cocaine, pressed into pills, masquerading as ecstasy, all because it’s so cheap,” said Bridget Brennan, New York special narcotics prosecutor. “That’s the business model that drug dealers rely on. Buy low, sell high and create a consumer base that cannot say no.”