April Fools Day is known around the world as a day for practical and sometimes impractical jokes, particularly ones that go viral in popular media. This year, chronic pain patients, their families and their doctors can instead choose to make April 1st a day of change and protest. It can become a National Day of Pain.
Those who have followed my columns on National Pain Report and elsewhere will be familiar with a theme that I have often sounded: lobby your legislators. That subject came up again in a two-hour interview on March 21st, broadcast from Manchester Vermont radio WMNH, “Matt Connarton Unleashed”. [U-Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rq4_-p8_OA&feature=share].
The needle on public policy for treatment of pain is beginning to quiver. Stories of people denied pain treatment or deserted by their doctors are appearing more often in popular media. Draft recommendations to Congress from the US Department of Health and Human Services Task Force on Pain Management call for a serious and patient-centered change of direction. The American Medical Association has repudiated the 2016 Centers for Disease Control guidelines on prescription of opioids. Over 300 medical professionals have published a thoughtful demand that CDC rewrite the guidelines to correct horrendous outcomes in over-regulation and patient suicides. In March, the House HELP Committee heard testimony that the guidelines need to be taken totally out of the CDC and done over by NIH or the National Academies of Medicine.
Despite these commentaries we still haven’t heard a serious response from the CDC.
So now is the time for patients to add their voices and finally be heard. And by that I do not mean that we should send emails to our Congress. Emails are regularly trashed or answered with noncommittal form letters. Now it’s time to “get in their faces” by phone.
Between now and April 1st, you can prepare. Do a Google search for “contact… senator… [your State]”. Go to the two Senate websites and find their Washington DC office phone numbers. Do the same for “contact… Congressman… [your city or zip code].” And do it again for “contact… Office of the Governor… [your State].”
Starting at 0900 Eastern or local time, start calling those phone numbers. If you get a busy signal, keep calling. If you get an answering machine, then leave a message. If a staffer answers, then offer your own version of the following message in a calm tone of voice.
“Good Morning… my name is […]. I live in [town, State]. I am also a chronic pain patient [or the family member of a patient] who has been denied effective treatment with opioids that work for me. Because of DEA persecution, my doctor is scared of being investigated for over-prescribing.”
“The 2016 CDC guidelines on prescription of opioids are killing people just like me by medical collapse and suicide. The guidelines and all State regulations based on them must be immediately withdrawn for a major rewrite by different agencies. CDC is incapable of fixing them, and is refusing to make the attempt.”
“I want your boss to immediately announce their support for legislation to take treatment guidelines for pain out of the CDC. He [she] should also act to remove DEA authority to seize civil assets of doctors being investigated. I expect him or her to become a co-sponsor of this legislation. I will be watching.”
One thousand calls won’t seriously attract notice from the April fools we have elected. But perhaps one hundred thousand that leave their contact numbers swamped might. And there is another number that you can call: the chief editor of your nearest large city newspaper. Tell the editor about your effort to lobby for change on behalf of people in pain. And ask them to interview the same people you did.
Richard A Lawhern is a technically trained non-physician advocate for people in pain, with 22 years experience in patient support groups, and over 70 published papers and articles.