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When Doctors Accuse Chronic Pain Patients of Drug Seeking

Published May 16, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff  

The day that pop music legend Michael Jackson overdosed on prescription drugs, 11 Florida residents did too. Did you know that on average 11 people a day overdose and die in the sunny state of Florida from prescription medications? If you do the math, that's over 4,000 deaths from doctor prescribed drugs. The 'King of Pop' is not alone as the rising of overdose deaths from these painkillers does not discriminate against celebrities like Prince, Heath Ledger, and Cory Monteith.

Maybe you remember a documentary from the company Vanguard that aired on Oct. 14, 2011, called The OxyContin Express.

Part of the mission at Vanguard has always been to shine a light on stories that no one else is telling, and despite the considerable media glare surrounding Michael Jackson’s death, they knew that as they put their piece together that there was more of the story to tell.

“In the U.S., more people are now abusing prescription drugs than heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy combined. For The OxyContin Express, we traveled to ground zero of the epidemic, South Florida, the 'Colombia of prescription drugs.'”

The company states, “In the piece, we expose a bustling pill pipeline that stretches from Broward County to the hills of Appalachia, where prescription drugs, particularly Oxy, are in high demand. Hopping a flight on what’s been dubbed The OxyContin Express, a low-cost airline popular with pill addicts and dealers transporting drugs from Florida, we arrived in Kentucky, the state that leads the nation in prescription drug abuse.”

The Kentucky addicts went into grave detail how once a month they get into a car and road trip the 20 hours to Florida to see as many pain clinics as possible within a two-day span — this is referred to as 'doctor shopping.' Once the two days were up, they'd make the drive back home and then resell the pills they bought 10-fold only to support their own addiction.

“As in the ‘80s and ‘90s cocaine was a big thing, now prescriptions have just exploded,” said Sergeant Richard Pisanti of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Just like in the 1980s when the cocaine cowboys brought the drug to Miami, Florida, from a drug lord in Columbia, normal people are finding themselves addicted to painkillers and seeking those drugs in your standard doctor office.

“In fact, Florida has gained such a reputation for the ease with which pills can be acquired that addicts and traffickers now travel from a thousand miles away just to visit the ballooning number of cash-only for drugs-only pain management clinics,” added Pisanti.

So if doctors are looked upon as dealers, where does that leave the chronic pain patient?

“We’re drowning in pills from Florida,” reported Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper, a small-town lawman taking on a growing national epidemic. “These aren’t doctors, they’re drug dealers with degrees.”

What Does this Mean for the Chronic Back Pain Patient?

Clarice Bromley, a patient of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and blogger explained, “A few days back, I went on my weekly visit to my general practitioner, this time to ask for my well overdue pain medication prescription. This was because I had waited three months after my pain medication ran out to renew it due to many people telling me how “reliant” I am on them. I guess I just wanted to prove everybody wrong.”

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of connective tissue disorders, most commonly affecting the joints or skin. It involves a defect with the protein collagen, which normally functions to provide strength and elasticity to tissue. EDS can manifest in many different ways and affect many body systems and parts (due to the prevalence of collagen), including skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, organs, gums, eyes, etc.

“Nine times out of 10, the doctors I see are very understanding of the medication I take to help relieve a tiny percentage of my daily chronic pain. But for the first time the other day, I had a doctor challenge my need for pain relief, telling me I am addicted to medication and I should seek help for my drug problem.”

She instantly began laughing at the doctor.

“Of course, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I just do not understand how someone who has only just met me and knows little of what my illnesses are or mean for me can automatically assume I am drug-seeking because my illness isn’t immediately life-threatening. I mean, she even had to ask me what Ehlers-Danlos syndrome was, so how could she determine all I need is drug counseling?”

What Can We Do?

The only way to bring awareness to remove the automatic judgment on anyone turning to medication for pain relief is to simply talk about it. People are sometimes ignorant to the fact that your pain is real. They don't know how you feel on a daily basis nor do they understand. They are lacking the knowledge in order to empathize instead of criticize so by talking about it, they can maybe feel your pain a little more.

For those who cannot function normally without some form of relief — when painkillers are the only way to obtain comfort — do not let anyone's judgment derail you from getting the relief you so desperately need and deserve.

Like Bromley, where her doctor accused her of being an addict, she then made an appointment at another local doctor's office just to get a second opinion. After all, second opinions are always needed in order to make the best choice for your pain regime.

If one doctor doesn't understand your disease or thinks one treatment isn't the way to go, another doctor maybe more empathetic to your chronic illness. They may see your pain in a different light. We, of course, are not telling you to go doctor shopping, but a second opinion can never hurt.

Luckily, in today's modern world, there are normally substitutes for just about anything. If you are tired of constantly being judged (you are not alone), maybe you want to look at other holistic treatment options. At this point, we are willing to try just about anything (are we right?) — so we encourage you to speak out and defend yourself. Don't be afraid to try something new. No one is going to fight for you, but you. If your current treatment plan isn't relieving your pain, try another.

Updated: February 19, 2020

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