Pain patients in Florida are taking their well-being into their own hands by fighting back against the state and federal governments, which are obstructing and, in some cases, denying opioid treatment for chronic pain.
In the last few months I’ve written about the crackdown on pill mills in Florida and the consequent massive disruptions in treatment for people with pain. I wrote about a pain patient who took her own life after a medical practice refused to treat her. I wrote about the difficulties patients have in finding physicians to treat their pain. Even when they do see a doctor and get a legitimate prescription, many patients have to travel great distances to find a pharmacy willing to fill their opioid prescriptions.
I have continued to hear from people with pain in Florida and, as far as I can tell, the situation has worsened there.
My suspicions were confirmed by Donna Ratliff, a former state leader for the American Pain Foundation (APF) and the founder of Fight for Pain Care Action Network, a non-profit group fighting for adequate pain care in Florida. Ratliff started a a Facebook group for people with pain about the time the APF folded. The group has grown as more and more patients find themselves without proper pain care.
Ms. Ratliff gets calls from all over the state from people with pain, who’ve gone through frustrating searches to find physicians and pharmacists willing to treat them. Many of those calls come from patients going through withdrawal symptoms and horrible pain because they cannot get the treatment they need.
Ratliff cites the crackdown by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Florida’s infamous pill mills as the genesis of the war on pain patients. Not only did the authorities have good success in shutting down the mills, they also cracked down on physicians and pharmacies they believe were providing too many opioid analgesics to the public. All of this has had a chilling effect on the relationship between pain patients and their doctors. Fewer opioid prescriptions are being written and, as a result, thousands of people in pain are suffering needlessly.
Until recently, I was of the opinion that the fallout from such actions was unintended and accidental. I no longer believe that. It looks to me like there is a concerted effort in Florida and in other states to limit, by legislation and policy, the legitimate prescribing of opioid analgesics. These combined efforts have led to fear, anxiety and ruthless pain.
Protest by Pain Patients
The Fight for Pain Care Action Network is an inspiration for pain patients throughout the country. And they are indeed fighting back. Ratliff and others are organizing a rally on September 12th at the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee to protest the behavior of pharmacies refusing to fill legitimate prescriptions. The protesters will carry signs and banners, and share their stories of under-treatment or non-treatment of pain with the media.
Organizers are also collecting signatures on a petition they hope to present to the governor, asking that pharmacies stop denying legitimate prescriptions for opioid analgesics. They have an online funding effort underway to help them rent buses to transport protestors to Tallahassee. Ratliff has commitments from a few physicians to participate. Though she was reluctant to speculate, she thinks there will be well over a hundred protesters in Tallahassee on the 12th.
This rally is only the first step in a long battle to stop the discrimination against people with pain. The main goal of the rally is to rouse the attention of the public and the media. Public pressure should focus on the Florida Pharmacy Board, which sets policy for pharmacies.
Ratliff believes the policies are too broad and open to wide, indiscriminate interpretation. Pharmacies fear, and have every right to, that the DEA will investigate and close them for selling too many opioid analgesics; a two-headed hydra that the government has unleashed in its war on people with pain.
Ms. Ratliff and a growing chorus of pain care advocates believe this isn’t just a social justice issue, but a burgeoning human rights issue. The pain community is going to need to reach out to human rights organizations to educate them about the staggering numbers of people living with pain in the U.S.
Maybe this rally will be the first stone tossed in the political pond. Let’s hope the ripples spread to every state.
Mark Maginn lives in the east bay of San Francisco where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog can be found here.
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