Caught in the Crossfire: Florida’s Seniors

Caught in the Crossfire: Florida’s Seniors

Terry Bonomo

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?”

When indeed?

Mary Maston

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.

The views, opinions and positions expressed in this column are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of American News Report, Microcast Media Group or any of its employees, directors, owners, contractors or affiliate organizations. American News Report makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information in this column, and is not responsible or liable for any errors, omissions, or delays (intentional or not) in this information; or any losses, injuries, and or damages arising from its display, publication, dissemination, interpretation or use.

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greg

Enjoyed your work/piece/story … . In other venues the alleged proposition would be extortion. I am in the same situation with my pharmacy dropping me after years of doing business; however, I never heard the one about the — additional prescription requirement. There are laws being broken right and left, and I am not talking about the bad guys in this case. The Rx personnel from top to bottom are discrimnating on who receives the med, which violates the “big Rx chain store” policy and advertisement of we want your business, we will do just about everything to get your business, transfer your prescriptions to us, blah, blah, and it’s one stop shopping — nothing could be further than the truth … if the prescription is for a pain medicine customer. So, they [Rx’s] say they are open for business, which means “equal treatment” and “equal protection” for the customer under the law. Well, if you have visited other sites and blogs, etc., you can read the many excuses that are blatant lies for not filling the oxycodone (opiate) prescription. Talk about “arbritrary and capricious”
and “selective enforcement” of those policies and/or laws. The one that I like the most is we cannot call another store to help out Joe Customer, whom they known from years doing business (compter record, too), because they are now afraid of you or mistrust you … (?) … I am confused at what would be the logical reason they will not help a pain med customer vs. a blood pressure med customer, etc., locate his medicine. That’s plain and simple discrimination which supercedes the “so called right to refuse service”. On the grounds of your prescription for pain med, they think they can so arbritrarily refuse to fill it. It will not stand up in court, and shame on the ones that lie by telling a customer they are out of the drug and filling another because of profiling or whatever. This aformentioned Rx matter has been a problem for years. I was just lucky they [Rx] filled my prescriptions for as long as they did. I guess they determined that I was genuine for all those years, but now I am not despite the fact that nothing has changed — I guess that is an admission of wrong doing or guilt on their part — as they made a mistake by previously filling my prescriptions. But are we talking legal, or Rx whim? In any case, I wish this site would have presented the other side (pain suffering) years ago. Thank you for your time.

Barb

My Mom was chronically ill the last few years of her life (non-cancer). She had moderate to severe pain almost daily and taking Vicodan greatly reduced her pain. I cannot imagine if all of this would have been going on when she was alive. She would be made to feel guilty for getting relief from her pain the last few years of her life. This is awful! Under these new laws, she would have been required to go to a pain management doctor, something that was unnecessary and expensive for someone who already had plenty of medical bills. Those who abuse will always find ways to abuse….those that are like my Mom…had a legitimate script and took pain medication only as directed, will pay the price for those that abuse. Really sad!

Great article Mary,the story is so familiar with pain patients like myself,I too had once did the pharmacy crawl,and have boycotted walgreens,cvs because of the crawl,I’ve been luck for the last 5 months with a pharmacy,and only hope it continues,but with the florida’s government,dea and pharmacy’s playing doctors,
who knows what the future lies in front of all pain management people.

Mary

These things should not be happening in a country that is called a “Land of Liberty” where the “pursuit of happiness” is stated in the Constitution. How can there be liberty and happiness if so many people are in so much pain they cannot work at their trades and provide for their families. What has happened to this country? Why do the pharmacy companies get to dictate who gets what medications and when or if they get them? What is going on here? Something is seriously wrong! Is anybody in leadership positions even paying attention to what’s happening to the United States? Do they even care? This is a scary nation to live in.

Dawn

This is very sad!! This man who has worked his whole life contributing to the system and that same system IS failing him. He should be enjoying these years and this season of his life not driving all over trying to get scripts filled.

Laurel McDonough

Thank you for such insightful treatment of this most important issue. I worked as a hospice RN before succumbing to my own battles with pain. I tried physical therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, music, counseling, many, many injections, all without relief. I felt so betrayed when I could not find a doctor to treat my pain adequately. Lucky for me I sustained a severe fracture (!) and was finally prescribed medication which relieved my pain. Soon I realized that receiving the prescription did NOT necessarily guarantee I could get it filled! Once, even after the pharmacist spoke with the doctor’s office and determined that it was a legitimate prescription he would still only give me enough for 48 hours. Quite often I would have to travel to several pharmacies before I could find one that “carried” or had the medication “in stock.” And there does seem to be a segment of the population that mistakenly believes that ANYONE who takes opioid pain medication is a drug addict, which is just another example of blaming the victim. Thank you again for coverage of this truly painful subject.

Another fine piece by Mary Matson … Bless this fine man “Terry” and his plight for pain relief …. So Sad this is happening right here in America .. This is an unfortunate & horrifying fallout of the government’s ” War on Prescription Drugs “. Meant to stop the abuse of controlled substances, whether it’s trafficking or personal addiction use … this collateral damage is being felt by Chronic Pain Patients throughout the State with unprecedented affects from a sudden halt to their pain mgmnt. therapy .. it has simply gone way too far & too many are suffering unimaginably. Yes, Along with the older, elderly population being threatened by death from tolerance-withdrawal, Chronic Pain Patients statewide are suffering nothing short of torture that is as inhumane, if not worse than what the military have been accused of doing to TERRORISTS ! While most of this Country shuns such actions & are abhorred this was proven, it was ever done … too many pass judgement upon the already, ” STIGMATIZED – Chronic Pain Patients ” who already suffer a life full of pain & isolation but now without medications .. many are resorting to suicide. Without having ever walked in someone shoes .. how can ANYONE judge another .. calling any and/or all ” DRUG ADDICTS ” ? How can they they be so narrow-minded, passing judgement without even batting an eyelash .. while they are horrified at the torture of people who have killed countless innocent people ! Just yesterday .. My Mother was speaking to a relative of ours inquiring to see if she had received an email, supporting me & my fight along with this very struggle we speak of. Her reply to my Mother was: ” YOUR DAUGHTER IS A DRUG ADDICT ” My Mother, incredibly hurt .. Me, incredibly angry, however, I know to ALWAYS consider the source, but this is quite sad that people can not even receive support from “Their Own” … Wow … ” I rest my case “. BTW: I am 54 yrs.old, the inception of my diagnosed disease/s were 10 years ago. I have 5 debilitating, quite painful diseases which consume my life. No one can or ever will understand my pain & what it means to live in LESS PAIN … so I can simply get up everyday. The inability to get your medicine, hence your government stepping in, telling Dr’s who schooled for Masters in order to treat Chronic Pain Patients properly within the confines of the medical industry .. that they can not prescribe certain med’s, can not give more than a certain amount .. and the list is ENDLESS… THIS IS DOWNRIGHT SHAMEFUL .. Addicts have abused themselves, taking too much medication, threaten their lives and/or losing it ! There attempt to stop this should IN NO WAY interfere with the TREATMENT COURSE of: Validated Legitimate Chronic Pain Patients, Their Doctors and Pharmacists ….. The government (DEA & other factions ) have ONLY been learned &… Read more »

ashlee

This is just one case it makes me wonder how many others that built this world, fought in wars, nursed the sick, that are suffering also. I understand that prescription drugs abuse is a problem but there has to be a better way than this.

Erika

Wow! How bureaucratic and crazy! Pharmacies should be required to stock CII opioids for their regular customers regardless of whether or not these customers have other Rxs. It is just crazy that anyone thinks that adding hoops for legitimate chronic pain sufferers to jump through will somehow deter the addicts. The addicts get what they need regardless. It is just the legitimate patients who are harmed by these hoops. Think about it!