In a first of its kind protest, about two dozen chronic pain patients rallied Wednesday outside the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee, calling on federal and state regulators to require pharmacists to fill legitimate prescriptions for pain medications.
The demonstrators say thousands of patients across the state are living in constant pain or going through withdrawal because they can’t get the pain medication they need. They’re being turned down because pharmacies are fearful of losing their licenses if they fill too many prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
“People need to be aware that legitimate patients are suffering, that legitimate patients are being treated like drug addicts when they go to the pharmacy to get their legal prescriptions filled,” said Jeanne Hyatt, who drove five hours from her home in St. Petersburg to attend the protest.
Hyatt, 56, has chronic pain from fibromyalgia and bursitis, and has been disabled since 1996. She started having problems in January getting prescriptions for percocet or oxycodone filled. A CVS pharmacy that had always filled her prescriptions before turned her away, and Hyatt had to drive to several more pharmacies before she found one willing to provide her with pain medications.
“Not knowing that you’re going to be able to have your medication after 28 days is a horrible feeling because if you don’t have it you’re going to go into withdrawal,” said Hyatt. “Not only are you going to be suffering from severe pain, you have to drive around the town just trying to find some pharmacy that might have it. It’s horrifying.
‘It’s not just a few people that are slipping through the cracks. It’s really affecting a large group of Floridians. And now that we’ve gotten into it, we’re finding other states are having problems as well.”
The rally was organized by Donna Ratliff, a chronic pain patient who founded the Fight for Pain Care Action Network, a non-profit group lobbying for adequate pain care in Florida.
“We’re not stopping here, we’re going to do more rallies and whatever it takes,” said Ratliff. “What really needs to be done is the pharmacy guidelines need to be rewritten so that prescriptions written by a legitimate doctor have to be filled.”
The rally was held the day after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said it was revoking the controlled substance licenses of two CVS drugstores in Florida. The DEA alleges the two stores near Orlando were filling too many prescriptions for oxycodone, a widely abused and addictive opioid. While the average pharmacy in the U.S. orders about 69,000 oxycodone pills a year, the DEA says the two CVS pharmacies ordered more than 3 million pills in 2011 .
CVS contends the high volume of prescriptions at the two stores is due to the fact they were open 24 hours a day and because of their proximity to a major interstate highway.
The pharmacies are no longer allowed to sell prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. They are still permitted to sell other prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, statins, and medications for high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Tell the DEA to back off,” says Ratliff. “They’re cutting us off and they’re creating terrible, terrible stuff.”
Jeanne Hyatt agrees.
“Everything is fear driven. The doctors are scared, the pharmacists are scared and the patients are scared,” says Hyatt. “These are people that are sick. These are people that are ill and crippled. What if this was your heart medicine and someone told you, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have it’ or gave you conflicting information about it? But because it’s got this stigma as a drug that can be abused, now we’re all suspect. It’s gone too far and it’s not fair. “