My Story: What I Told the CDC

My Story: What I Told the CDC

By Judith Carr Bruno

Editor’s Note- Judie Bruno is a 68-year old Army vet and amputee who lives in California. The National Pain Report featured her story about taking on the VA Health System. We’ve kept in touch. She sent the following comments to the Centers for Disease Control protesting its draft 2016 Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

Judie Bruno and dog Fred

Judie Bruno and dog Fred

I am not one to believe in “conspiracy” theories but if the CDC isn’t trying deliberately to ruin Health Care in America under Obama Care with these policies on Narcotic Pain Medications, it will be the outcome of these regulations and your policies are doing a great job destroying it all. Clinics are closing, pharmacist and physicians are scared to treat chronic pain patients and some are retiring when they can no longer treat those patients who suffer from chronic pain in the way they know is best. Good physicians are being arrested and brought to trial for giving their patients what they know is best to treat their pain. Chronic pain patients need the narcotic pain medications for their quality of life and now are being treated as “drug addicts” for just requesting help with their pain. Veterans are being “tortured” under these rules by their own government and there is no other word that fits their treatment.

I talk to many chronic pain suffers every week over Social Media and see the results of these regulations. Mothers are no longer able to care for their children without the pain medications and without the help of family and friends, are now afraid of losing their children. Bread winners are no longer able to work to support their families and individuals are not able to stay independent and care for themselves as they could with the pain medications their doctors had prescribed but now can no longer receive. Who is going to care for them and where will that money come from to do so?

Patients are being told with no warning at all that they can no longer receive the pain medications that help them through each day, nothing to help with the withdrawals and danger of shock their systems will go through by just stopping their pain medications and receiving nothing at all to help with the pain. This is malpractice when patients are given nothing to help with the pain by doctors and pharmacist who are breaking their oaths “to do no harm” again, out of fear. Pain medications and the decisions to prescribe them should be between the physicians who know what their patients need with no bureaucracy making those decisions especially when they don’t know each individual case and what the best way to treat these patients is.

I know this for a fact as on Sept 16 of this year a pharmacist at the VA made the decision to just not send me the morphine I have been on for over 14 years because I use Medical Marijuana and did so with no warning, no care at all of the effect to my system or anything to help with the pain I deal with 24/7 for over 40 years, two thirds of my lifetime. He didn’t know and certainly didn’t care that at the time I had in reserve over a month’s worth of morphine again proving I never abuse pain medications. After going in front of a “Pain Board” I was able to prove this as there is no doubt to my need for pain medications in my records and was again granted the pain medications my doctors had prescribed until I dealt with a Pain Management Physician who actually bribed me and told me that if I gave up using Medical Marijuana, they would give me the narcotic pain medications prescribed. Their excuse of cutting narcotic pain medications is a fear of overdose and is a direct lie as no one has ever overdosed on Medical Marijuana or the addition of this to their pain therapy. Medical Marijuana is not the same, doesn’t have the same properties or side effects as narcotic pain medications and should never be compared to drugs like Morphine and Codeine and yet they are using this as an excuse to cut the pain medications needed especially with Veterans at the Federally run VA Medical Centers. Cutting pain medication is giving those patients no choice but to use more and more Medical Marijuana. How is this helping in your fight against Medical Marijuana now legal in all states except for the Veterans directly under the care of our Federal Government?

In 1995 I opted to amputate my right leg to get off of the large amounts of pain medications the VA had me on for years and I even refused to use of Fentanyl prescribed by the VA as I didn’t need that amount of medication and have fought every day to only take what I need and yet now I have to beg to receive what I need for my quality of life. Not every Chronic Pain patient is a drug addict and yet we are all being treated as such.

I have filed a complaint under the American’s with Disabilities Act as Chronic Pain is a disability and those who suffer from it are being discriminated against because of those who would abuse such drugs. This is the same type of discrimination as religion or race because of the actions of a few and is against all Federal and State ADA Laws.

You will never stop drug abuse by torturing those who really need it for their chronic pain. Those who will abuse drugs again will find a way to do so and again, the Drug Cartels will provide them with what they want and I fully expect to start seeing narcotic drugs being provided to anyone who can pay for them. There is no guarantee that these “street drugs” will be what they are advertised and will cause more dangers to life and health by those desperate enough to buy them off of the streets. Our government has been losing the so called “war on drugs” for years with your ideas of how to fight drugs in this country and you will never win or stop those who will abuse these drugs in this way giving again the “drug cartels” another avenue to make money without care of what they do and how it effects those who need them. Treatment for drug addicts is the only way to help them but until they receive such treatment, they will find a way to get what they want. Did this country learn nothing from Prohibition?

No one in pain should suffer one more day than is necessary and this is NOT necessary.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to comment to the CDC, you can do so here.

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Authored by: Judith Carr Bruno

There are 20 comments for this article
  1. Candice H at 10:49 am

    Judith, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth. I’ve been complaining of pain management facilities headed by anesthesiologists being what pain patients are stuck with. Not letting our family physician prescribe our pain meds is ludacris. Those anesthesiologists want to give injections that cost way over $3000 for something that doesn’t work if you have been in spinal pain for years.
    My family doctor cares about me and wants me feeling my worth. A stranger sticking needles in me to shut me up then doing urine drug tests every month while threatening me doesn’t give a flip about me . In fact he never even read my patient pre-visit form to see my level of depression. In and out in 8 mins and billed Medicare for a $240 23 min visit. Had me pay then kicked me out by hand written letter 5 days later claiming the signing of the opioid form was broken since a medication I no longer took was showing up in my urine months later even though he and I discussed the problem with my concern for liver filtering due to the cancer drug I was on. The nurse assistant who was a tacky caregiver at the least kept telling me the labeling of the drug was mg/ml of urine and I argued saying 3000mg/ml of urine of the drug would have me laying out flat. After 3 months and 3 tests it showed 122 nanograms (since that is the correct way to label a metabolite) and I commented that I was almost clear so guessed the cancer drug just caused my liver problems. I talked with the doctor each time. Someone taking a drug knowing it’s against the rules wouldnt suggest testing to see if they were clean or want to suggest visiting the GI doc in charge of my liver.
    Imagine my surprise when getting the boot.
    I’m an RN who did home health for VA patients and was appalled over the level of care these vets got. I had a patient with a surgically deformed leg and agonizing pain levels who I suggested amputation to but just would not consider it. Since I’m not working now due to pain level I never found out what he did.
    My heart goes out to you and what you have gone thru. I will write a letter to the CDC to address the problem too.

  2. Jean Price at 9:44 am

    Judy, your letter elicited so many good comments and I thank you for telling your story. We could change the causes and conditions and come up with similar stories of people working to have a fulfilling life while dealing with chronic pain ….. and the changes in getting medications to help that we all deal with. It’s amazing to me that we are patients with chronic pain yet we are treated as if we are patients with chronic drug use!! And care varies so much around the country, even the world. Some years ago there was hope that pain would finally be addressed and treated as it should be with long term medications, including opioids, being part of the regime to alleviate suffering and help people gain function. I see that disappearing in today’s world! The regulatory powers are combining the issues of drug abuse and drug use for chronic pain. This will never help either group of people. Yes, abuse and overdoses are a real problem and should be looked at without a doubt. Yet, chronic pain is also a very real problem and has nothing to do with abuse. It needs to be looked at outside the arena of abuse, in the light of appropriate care for a medical condition that is life limiting…and more limiting without the help of opioids to alleviate some of the pain. Many people don’t realize that people who use pain medication still live with a certain amount of pain. The goal is to be better able to function, not to take opioids and be unfunctional because of the medication. That’s a huge difference from people who are abusing drugs. Their goal is escape….from the world, from their problems, and it is about mental health, not legitimate physical health needs. Unless the regulatory people separate this out, there is little chance that both groups will have what they need. And there is great danger that people with chronic pain will get the short end of the stick, with their doctors unable or unwilling to prescribe the opioids they need to live a more productive, comfortable life. I’m not sure what all of the factore influencing this are….but I do know they risk throwing away compassion in the care of people with pain. If this happens, then drug abuse will have impacted even more people on the periphery…it will have impacted all of us with chronic pain who use opioids as one of our treatment modalities. I have never wanted to go to a physician who only uses pain pills to treat me….but likewise, I never want to go to a physician who can’t or won’t include this in my care as needed. It’s looking more and more like that will be hard to come by, in the future. And there is no other way to label it other than saying its a shame, a shame on all who had a hand in this happening, a shame for all of those who will live with incapacitating pain.

  3. D at 10:31 pm

    I can’t wait to see these people passing these laws get a bad toothache because the last toothache and root canal I had aspirin would not cut it. And dentist are in the same area about writing prescriptions too. They are not going to risk your pain over their license. The lawmakers, CDC and DEA are joking themselves if they think these laws will make a bit of difference on the street and the people abusing. And Hollywood they will still get theirs too.

  4. Richard Oberg at 11:15 am

    They published mine JoJordan and I suspect they’ll publish yours (mine was even more critical with data) – you can find it under my name and I just posted my personal saga with a middle initial ‘A’. Mine took three days to review and the post date was three days after I submitted it. Judi Bruno’s story is horrible as are so many others – as I said in my second one ‘discrimination doesn’t discriminate’ and it doesn’t matter who we are, what we did/do, nor how compliant we are – this is being taken away from us as I always knew it would be. I live in TN. and the southern states are the worst (rather odd for the republican philosophy that government should stay out of people’s business – with numerous exceptions apparently). Around here it’s oft quoted that ‘guns don’t kill people – people do’ to defend gun rights yet insert ‘pills’ into that and it’s a no-go? Odd contradiction of many.

  5. David at 10:11 am

    I completely understand your situation and struggle. I also suffer from chronic pain due to combat related injuries. I have been constantly proactive in trying alternative methods for treating my chronic pain and have repeatedly struck out. (I.e. PT, strength training, injections, surgery, custom lotions and creams, amongst many others) Therefore, like so many I have to take narcotics to relieve my pain. I don’t enjoy taking them everyday but they allow me to live comfortably and be a productive member of society. Until we’re (Dr’s and I) able to find an alternative, I have two choices, take a narcotic and be labeled as a drug addicted, drug seeking lowlife or be in excruciating debilitating pain and unable to work, unable to be productive, unable to function and therefore labeled as a lowlife. If you’re suffering from chronic pain the choice is simple. For those who have never been in chronic pain have no idea how debilitating it truly is. Being in chronic pain completely alters your life and it’s never for the better. Without medication and treatment it becomes impossible to live a normal comfortable life. Simple everyday tasks become extremely difficult to perform and your overall quality of life becomes next to unbearable if not completely unbearable. In my opinion it should be a violation of human rights and unconstitutional for what the government has been doing. As a direct result from the actions of the DEA, BOME and others the quality of life for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands in chronic pain has become unbearable, the reputations and practices for thousands of doctors have been completely ruined. Why have the actions of so few always affect so many?

  6. janet at 2:51 pm

    I have many different diseases which is the cause of my pain ,there is not one part of my body that is not in pain. There are days I can not open a door knob.Walking more than 20 minutes makes me cry, than the next day I am useless.the only thing that helps me is the medication I am on , I am hoping my DOCTOR does not change it.

  7. DrChristine at 3:57 am

    I have worked in “health care” for years and have seen people undergo multiple procedures to “treat” their pain with little long term improvement. I worked for a year treating people with chronic non-malignant pain medically and was indicted by the government for it and was incarcerated.. I no longer have a license to practice medicine. I will survive and move on but I am not sure what the solution is for people in pain.

  8. Emily Ullrich at 10:11 pm

    Amen! I am so angry and frustrated that not only do I have to live with these illnesses, but my own government is literally punishing me for it. Those of us with chronic pain are considered “useless” to society, so they figure they’ll just eliminate us (either by suicide or forced use of street drugs), if they can’t make money on us, through forced use of non-opioids and “treatment” for our “addiction,” It’s disgusting and unless we raise up, as a community and MAKE our voices heard, it is literally going to become a genocide.

  9. DrChristine at 3:54 am

    Thank you for your story and continued work for people dealing with chronic non-malignant pain. I am a physician and was indited by the Federal Government for treating patients with opiates and served time in Federal Prison. When practicing I believed I did the right thing and did my best to treat people appropriately. After years dealing with the charges it became difficult to deal with my own self doubt. Your article helped me remember why I made the decision I did and they were in the best interest of my patients. I no longer have a license to practice medicine because of my opiate prescribing and have watched a colleague deal with a murder charge because of a patients over dose. I will be following you.

  10. Bonnie at 4:01 pm

    Great work Judie. it’s deplorable what the goverment is trying to do to Chronic Pain People. I feel for the loved ones who died of drug overdoses Please leave OUR DRUGS alone Get help dealing with your loss & please move on.My own Daughter, 43, has been a drug abuser since High School. She has Hep C now. My daughter never stole my pain meds, She just got them from her local fast food place ( In Lake Forest, Il. I might add, she’s a Graduate of their High School Yes, they are everywhere..They are so easy to get & cheap on the street. I have a great Dr who treats my pain, has for over 20 years. I also suspect the drug czars & companies have a lot to do with this new deal. So much money to make & so little time. My daughter will die due to her addictions, the Dr’s are amazed she is still alive. I grieve for her everyday, but I go on.I fight to stay as healthy & wise as I am today. If I could afford it I would go those hearings. You inspired me Judie, you all do. Keep on going, everyone!

  11. myst7 at 3:01 pm

    Judy Thanks for sharing your story and for your service VA needs to take better care of Vets
    It is sad a VA doc at the Tomah VA just got in big time trouble for prescribing opioids ,a service man died suicide I believe
    J.Jordan i find that very interesting thanks for sharing your also if true it wouldn’t surprise me since many people are corrupt and selfish.

  12. jojordan at 10:58 am

    Yes Judie it is a conspiracy. Here is what I sent the CDC. My only worry is that they won’t post it as I may have gotten too specific naming names but something has to give.
    My comments:
    PROP’S involvement with the CDC guideline drafting is unconscionable. For the CDC to publish guidelines based on low quality of evidence and very low quality of evidence is even more unconscionable.
    There is way too much conflict of interest here. If any big pharma is pushing for the guidelines that is probably Reckitt Benckiser which now has a spin off company called Indivior. They are the makers of Suboxone and there is at least one PROP member that would benefit greatly from these guidelines that are also pushing Suboxone. PROP would also benefit from grant money pouring into rehab centers like the one that is supporting PROP called Phoenix House.
    Another PROP member is a paid advisor for an ambulance chasing group of lawyers which stand to make substantial gains from pending lawsuits. This group of lawyers scour the news media and public records looking for potential clients. They then approach attorneys general in the states they feel have been harmed by lose opioid prescribing and talk them into filing suits against big pharmaceutical companies. There are some cases that have been put on hold until there are stricter guidelines in place and the CDC’s guidelines would fit that bill nicely. Congress needs to investigate this sort of activity.
    Congress should investigate this entire process. These guidelines were drafted behind closed doors and only after a public outcry and the threat of a suit from the Washington Legal Foundation was there any semblance of transparency.
    In practice the guidelines are already in place with some room left for the use of common sense by compassionate physicians. The chilling effect of the DEA’s war on doctors saw to that. The urgency in which the CDC and PROP is pushing this is somehow telling of the entire process and its true goal as I stated above. Until the CDC is sure of the statistics, which all indications show they are not, these guidelines should be scrapped. Baby boomers are aging. They are a huge part of the American population. Some of them require opioids to function. Many people are stating that long term use of opioids has helped them lead an independent life. Some of them will die of various ailments while on opioids. Until the CDC is sure they aren’t including those examples, among various others, in their stats they should not move forward with this. Dying while on opioids and dying because of them are two very different events.
    I’m tired of the media with their copy and paste reports on this so called epidemic. I’m also tired of hearing that we as a nation consume most of the opioids produced. Many countries lack access to opioids due to burdensome regulatory barriers which leaves billions of patients to suffer in excruciating pain. In some of those countries the patients are killed by family members out of compassion to end their suffering and yet those very same countries have a huge heroin problem. And yet we continue to blame the doctors even though fear has already made it next to impossible to get sufficient pain medications. Is this really what we want for the United States of America?
    My mother spent a good part of the last year of her life in pain. She was bed ridden and it was impossible to get her to a doctor once a month but that’s what was required in order to receive pain meds. During a good part of that year she was not considered eligible for hospice so the doctors said she would fall under the rules that any able bodied patient would. I guess that would include a urine test which makes me shudder to think of how that would be collected. She led a very respectable life. She deserved to die respectfully and without pain.
    I’m sorry for those of you that have lost a loved one to addiction but somewhere along that path the addict had a choice. My mother didn’t!

  13. Celeste Cooper at 10:24 am

    Bravo, Judith. TY for sharing your story. I hear the same things from other patients. I pray they will stand with us and speak up. Without a united voice we can expect more of the same. Please, anyone reading this, if you have not, leave your comment by following the link the NPR has provided.

  14. I.Hollis at 9:05 am

    This is so well said Judy!
    What a travesty.
    NPR wouldn’t post my comments, I guess they are towing the party line and didn’t want to hear that untreated pain can kill. About a loved one who almost died from pain after a local
    doctor said “you’ll just have to learn to live with the pain”
    CDC has no business guiding doctors with same panel of doctors who believe one should just learn to live with the pain, and other outrageous nonsense!
    This whole CDC guideline needs to be dumped. It’s just to rotten to the core.
    If they are going to do this then they need to start over with real pain doctors , who treat real pain patients, and not lump real pain patients into the same category as addicts. The panel they used are those who’s only interest is to profit over other people’s suffering.
    Just plain and simply wrong.
    Did diabetics have to struggle like this when treatments were being discovered? No! We were happy to finally have something that helped a very serious life threatening disease! Severe pain is no different with life threatening complications if not treated quickly and fully. Why is there such an onus put on pain patients and their families to have to struggle like this for decent, meaningful, respectful, and most importantly competent care?
    Why do we condone torture of our most vulnerable?
    This has got to stop.

  15. Donna at 8:50 am

    Hi Judie. Great job, I submittied my story to the CDC also. Every chronic pain person should get this report. I belong to a support group called Chronic Pain Anonymous, a 12-step program, but it is not about abstinence like AA. We are allowed to talk about general conditions and general discussion about meds, but no details or specifics. It is a group devoted to healing the emotional and spiritual debilitation of living in pain and/or illness everyday. Chronicpainanonymous.org – Recommend it highly. Although if you are a long time AA person you may find the fact that people take meds an issue. Some have.

  16. Danny Elliott at 8:38 am

    What a powerful letter! This woman, who has served her country in the most honorable way, has the kind of story that SHOULD be noticed by the CDC and SHOULD have quite an affect on their decision about the validity of the proposed guidelines for prescribing opioid medications. First of all, tthank you, Judie Bruno, for your service and sacrifice. Secondly, the fact that the decision was made to amputate her lower leg to reduce her pain as well as her need for additional narcotic medication speaks volumes about how she (and so many others with severe chronic pain) was willing to do anything to reduce the amount of pain medicine needed to simply get through the day and/or try to have a more “normal” life. If this comment doesn’t make a difference with those at the CDC, I don’t know what will. God bless you, Judie Brown! And I hope He blesses you with less pain.

  17. Scott michaels at 8:31 am

    so true. please share with other Vets so they comment too.

  18. Mark Ibsen MD at 8:09 am

    Thank you Judy.
    I have cared for many Veterans who were intially treated with large doses of opiates, then suddenly dropped.
    Shameful abandonment of the heroes who served our country.

    Keep speaking out. We all need to voice our outrage. Especially given that this conflict is about $$$$$.
    Eventually, someone will realize the huge cost of undertreating Pain.

  19. AJ Johnson at 6:44 am

    Excellent summary of how things are going.

  20. Kristine (Krissy) at 5:13 am

    Good work, Judie. I hope there is better treatment for you and all injured veterans coming. It is a travesty that those who serve our country have been left out of so many American human rights. I pray you get relief and the meds you need so as to not live in this horrible situation. Thank you for sharing your story — this should inspire more chronic pain patients to respond to the CDC before January 13th.