A crackdown on prescription drug abuse may be helping Florida shed its image as the “Oxy Express,” but many of its residents are still living in a state of pain. New research by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) found that 83% of Floridians say they or someone they care for has experienced pain in the past month.
The survey also found that many Floridians are concerned about taking pain medication. About 40 percent believe painkillers are easily addictive, risky to take with other medications, and have side effects that are worse than the pain itself. The survey is part of a public education campaign the AOA is conducting to help pain sufferers.
“The need for education and awareness around chronic pain remains a key issue in the state of Florida, and it is critical that physicians work closely with policymakers to ensure the best access to care is available for everyone,” said Joseph Giaimo, DO, an internist and pulmonologist in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “Every person’s pain is different and the best way to manage chronic pain starts by finding a physician that you can partner with to explore various treatment options.”
Chronic pain is a significant public health issue in Florida. According to the AOA survey, it takes Floridians an average of four weeks before they are able to find a physician to help manage their pain. One in four Floridians won’t speak to a medical professional about chronic pain because they can’t afford treatment.
A widely publicized state crackdown on prescription drug abuse may also be discouraging pain sufferers from seeking treatment.
In the last year, Florida’s Drug Enforcement Strike Force has arrested over 2,150 people and seized nearly half a million pills, 391 weapons and $4.7 million. Among those arrested were 34 doctors. Oxycodone purchases by Florida doctors have fallen by 97 percent and hundreds of pain clinics have also shutdown.
Some think the crackdown has gone too far.
“As a result of policymaker zeal, elderly, disabled and chronically ill people who have been treated adequately with pain medication until now have been left with few options as they scramble for help, suffering needlessly,” wrote Dr. Myra J. Christopher in a guest column in the Orlando Sentinel. “While there is no evidence that people with legitimate pain issues contribute to prescription drug abuse, efforts to stem the tide of abuse in Florida are having a clear, immediate, and deleterious effect on people who live with pain.”
Christopher was a committee member on the Institute of Medicine’s landmark “Relieving Pain in America” study, which estimated that 116 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Christopher holds the Kathleen M. Foley Chair in Pain and Palliative Care for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo.
“Sordid tales of abuse have taken center stage with media and spurred public officials to action. It’s easy to feel outraged at unethical physicians and the black market they support. It’s also easy to forget that there are millions of people in Florida with real pain who deserve real care,” Christopher wrote.
The American Osteopathic Association also urged restraint, so that legitimate pain sufferers can still get treatment. “At a time when Florida is evaluating health policies, we call on legislators and physicians to work together to ensure the best access to care for patients experiencing chronic pain,” said AOA president Dr. Martin Levine.