According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Florida is 19,057,542. Of that number, a whopping 17.6% are 65 or older. That is a staggering number of seniors, many of whom have health problems and pain issues.
One of them is Terry Bonomo, who is 67.
Terry is no stranger to hard, physical labor. He started working construction at the age of 16, before OSHA came along and mandated safe work environments. Terry says back in those days, injuries were common; a cut that required stitches here, a broken bone there.
Terry loved the work he did and was passionate about it, so the occasional injury was not that big of a deal – it came with the territory.
In 1987, however, Terry’s situation changed drastically. While working on a 5-story office building, Terry was on a ladder that went from the 5th floor to the roof of the building. The ladder collapsed, causing him to fall about 16 feet onto a concrete floor, crushing both of his heels.
He was hospitalized and it took almost a week for the swelling to go down so that they could operate. His doctor did what he could to piece the bones back together, but when Terry asked how long it would be before he could go back to work, he was told that he may never walk again, and that he needed to start thinking about another line of work.
“That was the worst part of it for me. I’ll never forget that day. I sat with my wife and cried like a baby,” Terry recalls.
For the next few months, he wore casts on both legs up to his knees. He had several more surgeries and went to physical therapy, and although it was extremely painful, he was able to walk again. He was also determined to go back to work. Terry says he was offered office jobs in the bidding department, but that wasn’t for him – he wanted to be out in the field.
It took a year, but he was able to do it.
Terry had started his career as a carpenter, and after his accident was given a work leader position, which was just under the foreman and required less climbing. He worked hard to exceed that title, and in the next 10 years was able to not only reach the foreman position, but make it all the way to superintendent. He taught himself how to make schedules, run progress meetings, and shoot grades – things that were extremely hard for him to do because he had no formal education past the 6th grade. He was very proud of his accomplishments and rightly so.
In 2005, Terry hurt his knee and after multiple surgeries and 6 months of physical therapy, he only felt worse. In 2007 he had surgery for a total knee replacement.
Once again, he was unable to work and in pain. Terry went to other doctors for a second opinion, trying to find one who could fix his knee; all the while being prescribed pain medications so he could make it from one day to the next. Finally, a doctor at Johns Hopkins told him that they could do another knee replacement surgery, but he didn’t think it would do any good.
Terry knew he couldn’t go back to work and had to give up the career he loved. He couldn’t go more than 7 or 8 hours without taking a pain pill. He was advised to file a worker’s comp claim, and in 2008 he took an early retirement at 64. He accepted a settlement that he says wasn’t much at all — compared to the six figure income he made working in construction.
Florida’s Pharmacy Crawl
Terry and his wife sold their home and moved to Port Richey, Florida to be closer to their daughter and two of their grandchildren. He was able to find a highly respected pain management doctor, who worked with him to get the right combination of medications to help his pain. The drugs worked well and he was feeling better than he has in years.
Then Terry got stuck in Florida’s “pharmacy crawl” – something he wasn’t familiar with and had just recently heard about. Many of Florida’s pharmacists are so intimidated by a state campaign against pill mills that they are reluctant to fill prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
Terry had been using the same pharmacy for 4 years. This month however, he was told that in order to fill his prescriptions for OxyContin and Percocet, which are Schedule II controlled drugs, he had to have a total of 6 non-controlled prescriptions, and they had to be filled at 30 day intervals.
Between Terry and his wife, they only have a total of 4 prescriptions that are filled at 90 day intervals and they don’t have any other medical conditions that warrant prescription medications.
Terry was told by pharmacy staff to either “find” two more prescriptions and have them filled every 30 days, or find another place to fill his prescriptions.
“So, if I can get sick enough to take two more non-controlled meds and get them all filled every 30 days they will fill my pain medications,” says Terry. “Sounds like it should be against the law, doesn’t it?”
Terry drove around trying to find another pharmacy and was told by at least 4 of them that he had to be a “regular” in order for them to fill his prescriptions. He was finally able to get the Percocet filled, but couldn’t find anyone to fill the OxyContin because the 10mg he was taking twice a day is considered a low dose — and since pharmacies feel they aren’t being compensated enough for low doses, they don’t bother to order them.
It took 5 days of driving from pharmacy to pharmacy, and an email not only to his pharmacy’s corporate office, but to Governor Rick Scott’s office as well, in order for Terry to get his pain medication. During that time, he started experiencing withdrawal symptoms. That was the scariest part. Because of his age and high blood pressure – Terry believes it would probably kill him to go through withdrawal.
“I pay $125 per month, plus another $125 every 6 months for a drug test, so that’s over $1,700 a year for a prescription I can’t fill; not counting the tank of gas each month just to ride around from store to store,” Terry told me. “I understand what the government is doing in trying to stop the dealers and doctor shoppers, but they are killing people like me who go to a real doctor, take the drug test 2 times a year, and only fill at the pharmacy stated on the contract I signed with my doctor.
“They need to draw a line between those of us who do everything by the book and the drug dealers and addicts. When is someone with the power to stop hurting all of us with legal prescriptions going to come forward and stop all of this?”
Editor’s Note: Mary Maston suffers from a rare, congenital kidney disease called Medullary Sponge Kidney or MSK. She is an advocate for other MSK patients and others in chronic pain.
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