In an effort to curb opioid drug abuse and addiction, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued new rules that limit the accessibility of hydrocodone, putting chronic pain sufferers who rely on the drug in an impossible situation.
The DEA’s new restrictions come after the decision to relabel hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug, making it difficult for users with chronic pain to receive the medicine they need. The recent changes include the elimination of phone-in refills and a mandatory check-in with a doctor every 90 days for a refill.
Hydrocodone is one of the most widely used drugs to fight chronic pain in the United States, serving a consumer base of about 100 million people. Many who rely on hydrocodone suffer from debilitating chronic pain, which greatly disrupts and decreases their quality of life.
Pain advocates across the country were vocal when the DEA announced these changes: they would have unintended consequences that would hurt, rather than help, legitimate pain patients in need. I spoke with a former patient of mine to find out how she was affected by the up-schedule of hydrocodone. She lives two hours away from the doctor who currently helps manage her pain. For her, it’s a 4 hour round trip every 90-days to access the medication that has helped revive a semblance normalcy since her pain first surfaced when she was just 20 years old. What’s worse, she told me that now, more than ever, she has been made to feel like a criminal for seeking access to medicine that has been rightfully prescribed to her by her own doctor.
In attempting to decode how other patients have been affected by the DEA rule change, the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA) released a survey of assessing the first 100 days after the regulatory change. The results are scary:
· 88 percent of patients felt that the changes denied their rights to access pain medication
· 71 percent report being switched to less effective medications by their doctors, who are fearful of legal issues
· 52 percent felt an increase sense of stigma as a patient receiving hydrocodone
· 27 percent of patients even reported suicidal thoughts when unable to access their prescription.
Controlling the abuse and overuse of pain killing drugs is necessary to keep patients safe, but the importance of decreasing drug abuse does not outweigh the needs of millions of people who suffer from chronic and depleting pain. When patients who suffer from these excruciating conditions are denied access to medication, they often turn to alternative forms of relief such as black market drugs, creating a larger issue of abuse.
Solving the problem begins with communication among the medical community, to ensure patients have access to their necessary medicine and the ability to live the life they deserve.
The medical system’s purpose is to treat and work for the betterment of patients. When we work against the people we are set up to serve, we are doing a great disservice to our cause and the people who rely on us most.