Playing devil’s advocate for tonight. I was reading our local online paper and saw that a 30 something couple had been arrested for trafficking in narcotics and numerous individuals were indicted for drug related offenses. What bothers me is because some individuals CHOOSE to traffic in narcotics, honest people with serious and chronic pain issues are often denied prescriptions. I have an older family member who was prescribed Vicodin monthly. He worked hard his entire life as a blue collar worker hence physical labor. Of the 47 years he worked, 40 were as an OTR (over the road) tractor trailer driver. He literally lived all week in his truck and was in a sitting position with knees bent for at least (11) hours a day. I’m sure that when he started driving many years ago, the DOT rules were not regulated as they are today. In 1991 and continuing into early 1992 he was sick for months yet because of his strong work ethic wouldn’t take off. When he finally went to his PCP he was diagnosed with general fatigue but I knew that wasn’t it. I practically had to force him to go for a second opinion. After an exam and basic blood tests, that physician also said it was fatigue. My nursing instinct however told me it was something more ~ I just didn’t know what or whom to turn to. Then one night at work it hit me. I saw a pamphlet in the hospital about Lyme Disease , a disease the medical community was learning about. As I read the pamphlet I suddenly remembered he has been bitten by a tick the previous summer and had the distinctive red bull’s eye rash. I took him to see an Infectious Disease doctor who, with the help of a specific blood test, diagnosed him with Stage 3, or late disseminated, Lyme disease. This stage can cause long-term joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis) usually in the knees along with a host of other complications, many of which he has experienced years later. In 1996 and again in 2000 he had episodes of Bell’s Palsy, a possible occurrence of Stage 3 Lyme Disease than can occur years later. Fortunately both times he was treated and it resolved. His severe and often debilitating arthritis however has not been resolved despite injections of cortisone to his knees. Because of its severity he has been treated by a rheumatologist for nearly fifteen years. In addition to the knee injections the rheumatologist prescribed Vicodin. My family member never used it when he was still driving but now that he’s retired takes it on an infrequent basis. Some days he needs it two or three times while other days only once or not at all. He chooses not to take the Vicodin daily because he doesn’t want to develop a dependence (just because we get older doesn’t necessarily mean we get stupid). Plus at age 73 he is of the generation that simply doesn’t take pills. Instead he opted to take it as needed, using plain Tylenol or homeopathic arnica in between. His specialist of fifteen years is under the umbrella of a Maine hospital. My family member went for his six month checkup a few months ago and learned the practice had implemented blood drug screening tests for anyone on narcotics. When his test came back with less Vicodin in his system (because he didn’t take it every single day), he was cut off completely. Told he was not taking them as often as he should even though the prescription label clearly said “every six hours as needed“. As needed means just that ~ when you have severe discomfort/pain. It does not mean take it on a schedule. He was questioned by a rather nasty office nurse as to what he was doing with the Vicodin. Was he selling or sharing? In my professional opinion she crossed a line and when I learned of her interrogative questioning tactics I went ballistic. Her approach and accusing manner was unacceptable so I called the practice manager to complain. I had to leave a voicemail and ended with a request that the physician call. When one week passed without a return phone call from anyone, I called and again had to leave a voicemail. I gave it another 10 days then sent a certified letter to my family member’s doctor. He finally called us and explained that he is being monitored by the hospital he works for (as were other doctors under that healthcare umbrella who treat pain) and that the blood tests and stopping the Vicodin were the hospital’s rules – not his personal ones. He went on to say that the people who either fake pain to obtain narcotics to sell or those with real pain who supplement their income by selling some of their prescription has made a HUGE impact for doctors like him, a board certified rheumatologist who specializes in treating chronic pain. It’s a terrible situation for an honest person to be in. They know one can become addicted so don’t “overindulge” and because they choose to stay on the safe side find themselves penalized without ANY prescription pain medication. Finally the rheumatologist prescribed something which is NOT effective for his arthritic pain and only causes constipation so he simply doesn’t it. All because of the people in society who choose to traffic which in my opinion include those with genuine pain who sell part of their prescription. Selling/trading/sharing YOUR prescription medication is illegal any way you look at it, whether it’s a narcotic or some leftover antibiotics from an infected tooth. And because people sell drugs for whatever reason, those with severe pain have to suffer. I keep reading articles blaming the pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing such powerful medications and blaming physicians for prescribing them. My feeling is ~ society NEEDS pain medication for people who live with chronic pain on a daily basis. I am thankful that drugs are manufactured that would help me retain some quality of life should I develop an extremely painful disease. We should not be penalized however because of those who CHOOSE to engage in trafficking. No person with severe, debilitating pain should be denied relief yet they are. Unlike traffickers, chronic pain is not our CHOICE.
Now I watch my family member suffer in his retirement years, when he should be enjoying himself. Instead, just rising from a chair causes him pain. He can barely do anything with his hands because they are so painful. It hurts me to see a 73 year old man who worked 47 years, 40 of which were spent in the confined cab of a tractor trailer, not be able to enjoy simple everyday things because of severe pain. He wants to visit family in TN this summer but is concerned about the pain, wondering if he will be able to participate in doing things with them. This is absolutely heartbreaking.
I think that’s why the medical marijuana movement has gained such momentum. Honest people with real pain issues need help and if they can’t get it from their medical provider then what alternative do they have? It’s a very slippery slope. I truly feel for those caught up in it. My family member said he would take medical marijuana which nearly blew my socks off. For him to say that tells me he is in agony. I’ll wait awhile and broach the subject with him again and if he still expresses interest than I’ll have to see how one goes about doing it in Maine.