Chronic pain sufferers in the United States are facing another obstacle in their daily quest to manage their pain: the government’s crackdown on opioid painkillers.
Kelsey Konz, 28, said she used prescribed Vicodin to ease pain from her fibromyalgia, corneal neuralgia and endometrioses for several years. But doctors stopped prescribing her the painkiller late last year.
“They’re extremely scared to prescribe anything,” Konz said. “I basically tried everything that there is and the opioids are the only thing that works.”
The result, Konz said, has been nearly non-stop eye pain.
Konz said she had to drop out of college and she is unable to work due to the pain.
"I would give anything to have someone's boring nine-to-five life because I have nothing," Konz said.
An estimated 100 million people suffer from chronic pain in the United States, according to an Institute of Medicine Report cited by the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said , on average, 115 Americans die every day from a drug overdose involving opioids, including any combination of prescription painkillers, illegal heroin and illicit fentanyl.
The CDC has also recommended new opioid prescribing guidelines to doctors in recent years.
Chicago-based pain patient advocate Sally Balsamo said while there is definitely an opioid epidemic, the government should be focused on illegal street drugs and fentanyl and not responsible opioid users.
“The result of what’s going on has really decimated the lives of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have anybody speaking for their side,” Balsamo said. “We need to adjust the guidelines to represent what truly is going on in the medical community with regard to the proper treatment of pain care,” Balsamo said.
Dr. Kathy Tynus is president of the Illinois State Medical Society. She said opioid prescribing in Illinois is down by twenty percent, but drug overdoses are increasing.
“Some critics will say that by prescribing less you are driving some of these people who are addicted or people who have chronic pain to look for alternatives that they can get and where can they get them, but on the street,” Tynus said.
Still, Tynus said chronic pain patients should seek doctors who are comfortable managing pain.
“I think we’re feeling like we’re under more scrutiny for our prescribing habits and I think we want to do the right thing for patients and sometimes that means we might overcorrect and not provide enough pain management for people,” Tynus said.
According to the CDC, its opioid prescribing guidelines are meant to improve the safety and effectiveness of pain treatment.