A respected consumer magazine best known for its ratings on refrigerators and vacuum cleaners is weighing in on the abuse of opioid pain medication – and many pain patients aren’t happy about it, calling the article “irresponsible” and “full of half-truths.”
“America is in pain — and being killed by its painkillers,” warns Consumer Reports in a cover story called “The Danger of Painkillers”. The article criticizes the Food and Drug Administration for not protecting consumers from risks associated with opioids and warns about the “deadly misconceptions” many people have about the drugs.
According to the article, opioids are inappropriate for long-term pain and many chronic pain patients would be better off using other medications or over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
“For certain types of pain — including nerve pain, migraines and fibromyalgia — other prescription medications usually work better than opioids,” the article states. “For other types of chronic pain, ask your doctor about trying OTC drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen before prescription drugs. Nondrug measures such as exercise, massage, behavioral therapy, and acupuncture might also help.
If you have chronic pain that hasn’t responded to other treatment, opioids may be an option. But your doctor should prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time and monitor you for side effects.”
The article makes no mention of medical marijuana – which many pain patients find effective in treating pain – nor does it identify the prescription drugs that “usually work better” than opioids.
Drugs such as Lyrica and Cymbalta are often prescribed to treat conditions such as fibromyalgia, but according to many pain patients and a recent survey by National Pain Report, most who try the medications say they don’t work or have unwelcome side effects.
The Consumer Reports article covers little new ground in the debate over prescription opioids and repeats often cited claims that “46 people per day, or almost 17,000 people per year, die from overdoses of the drugs.” Recent research has questioned the validity of those estimates.
“It is a crappy story full of half-truths, opinions and outright lies, not on any legitimate evidence,” said Janice Reynolds, a retired nurse, pain patient and longtime activist in the pain community.
“It does what similar stories in the media do and that is harm people with persistent pain. They do make a few good points but unfortunately the overwhelming portion of the story is slanted to give incorrect impressions. All medication is potentially dangerous yet unmanaged pain is just as dangerous and certainly those who would impede the management of pain are behaving unethically.”
“It’s not an attack on the pain community,” said Lisa Gill, a Consumer Reports editor who worked on the story. “The people who are well controlled on their opioid drugs, nowhere in this article does it say that that’s bad and they shouldn’t be doing that.”
“We were very influenced by the CDC’s ongoing reports that they put out, about the opioid pain pill crisis in America. And we were very motivated by the 500,000 people sent to the ER every year and the 17,000 people who died. In the case of the 500,000, over half are people who have received legitimate prescriptions from one doctor for pain. This is what set the stage for us.”
“It’s not an effort to get rid of all opioids. Nobody’s saying that people shouldn’t be taking them,” Gill told National Pain Report. “When you look at the CDC’s statistics, I think we all could admit they are alarming. I mean it’s absolutely stunning to see the number of opioid prescriptions that have skyrocketed in the last decade and the number of subsequent deaths.”
One of the “deadly misconceptions” about opioids – according to Consumer Reports – is that the drugs are not addictive when used to treat pain. But the article never distinguishes between addiction and dependence – an important point to many pain patients who say they need opioids to have any semblance of a normal life. According to the National Institutes of Health, only about 5% of patients taking opioids as directed for a year end up with an addiction problem.
“Pretzel logic and misinformation galore. The prohibitionist slant was obvious from the first paragraph on,” said pain patient Ryan Lankford. “If you don’t want to take opioids for your pain, then don’t. You have that right. But when you try to enact legislation that affects chronic pain patients like me, you just attacked MY rights. MY liberty. And I have a problem with that.”
“Sadly, Consumer Reports continues a pattern followed by many in the media of whipping up fear over the dangers of opioids without also providing balance by considering the benefits that these important drugs have for patients who use them appropriately,” said Dr. Jefferey Fudin, a pharmacist, in a post on his blog.
“This has unfortunately had an adverse effect on legitimate pain patients and has served to fuel anger in those unfortunate families who remain to grieve over a loved one that has succumbed to opioid addiction, eventual overdose and death. The media has been grossly irresponsible by ignoring the whole truth, and [educated] politicians should be ashamed for using the misfortune and grieving of others to bolster a bully pulpit by which to gain popularity while hanging their legitimate pain patient constituents out to dry.”
The Consumer Reports story was funded in part by a $3.1 million dollar grant from the State Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which received money from a settlement of consumer-fraud claims over the illegal marketing of Neurontin (gabapentin). Neurontin — which has been called the “snake oil of the twentieth century” — is still widely prescribed “off-label” to treat a variety of chronic pain conditions.
“It concerns me in all the facets of my relationship to pain, that there is now a war against people with pain. It distresses me greatly that most of what is printed and said in the media uses poor research or interprets it incorrectly, is based mostly on opinion (usually not of someone who actually has expertise in pain management), half-truths, or just basically outright lies. It is sad to see Consumer Reports going this route,” Reynolds said in an email to National Pain Report.
“I don’t think they’re the appropriate venue for doing this and I certainly don’t think they’re the appropriate venue for taking a position such as this. What I found more disturbing is that somebody such as Consumer Reports doesn’t do their homework effectively. They’re just taking someone else’s word for a lot of this stuff.”