Roy Exum: We're Torturing Millions

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ll admit it – I would rather hurt than take an opioid pain pill. Hydrocodone and its cousins scare the willies out of me because once when I was ‘drug sick,’ it was the worst sickness I have ever known. For somebody who always has somewhere that it hurts, I know that opioids are wonderful when used properly but because they are increasingly abused by society, there are now over 100 Americans who die each day from an overdose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us there is no doubt drug addiction has become our greatest health concern and I applaud the steps we are making on the federal and state levels but there is also a ‘flip side’ and, very candidly, it is uglier. It is now believed between five and seven million people are purposely “tortured” because they cannot legally get the drugs they need to function. Chronic pain is very, very real but listen to what one man said publicly in Georgia.

“I have three choices every day … I can do illegal drugs, I can suffer for the rest of my life in pain, or I can end my life. I am not going to do the first two,” he said in a very level voice and, two weeks later, walked into a park, stood under a tree where he had proposed to his wife, and took his life.

You know what is happening. Tennessee is among 33 states that have enacted legislation to curtail prescription drugs and many other states are now copying the Tennessee format towards common-sense treatment. But because we get all jumpy and hysterical in our over-reaction, my beloved Blue Cross-Blue Shield will no long approve some opioids.

Because of a no-nonsense approach towards those who made prescription drugs a lucrative cash cow, we’ve gone from over 300 prescription-based pain centers in the state to just below 100. Worse, one chain of pain centers abruptly closed – under legitimate pressure, mind you – this fall and some 60,000 Tennesseans had nowhere to turn. It was catastrophic. Don’t you see? Their need for drug therapy is very real, and properly prescribed our neighbors can live normal lives.

When the CDC – key word – RECOMMENDED opioid dosages, too many lawmakers and law enforcement officials took the figures “and hijacked and weaponized them as an excuse for draconian legislation,” Michael Schatman, a noted pain doctor and the editor of the Journal of Pain Research, recently said in a Fox News special.

Stefan Kertesz, an addiction specialist at UA-Birmingham, can tell you what happened. We are targeting the most vulnerable and sickest people who have been on opioids a long time. Insurers are issuing rules that say we won’t cover long-term opioids over 90 milligrams. Well, five percent of the people who receive opioids account for 60 percent of those prescribed.

“What we are really doing is dragging down the dose for disabled people,’ he said. “Curtailing prescriptions seems like an easy answer … but it isn’t stopping addiction.”

This is the truth. The CDC never, ever, made a recommendation to take patients off of opioids, or to taper down doses involuntarily. It was only meant to provide updated guidance to family practice physicians.

A far bigger fact: Over 60 percent of America’s raging epidemic is caused by ILLEGAL drugs, not legal prescription scrips. Just this year a public health report from Massachusetts revealed that of 477 overdose victims, the illegal drug fentanyl was found in 423 of them – that is 90 percent of damage that our reactionaries are blaming on prescription drugs and – it ain’t true.

The second-leading cause of death of Tennesseans who are between the ages of 25 and 34 is suicide. For adults between 15 and 24 it is the third leading cause of death and for those between the ages of 35 and 54 suicide ranks fourth. The CDC projects that the final nationwide figures from 2017 will show 72,222 deaths in the United States from drug overdose. Want a more horrifying number? – If you will multiple 72,000 by 10, that is how many overdoes were treated in our nation’s emergency rooms in just 12 months.

Two years ago, deaths from drug overdoses was 52,404  -- that’s an increase of 20.9 percent from 17.2 in 2015 to 20.8 in 2016. But what’s equally alarming …

Barbara McAneny is the president of the American Medical Association. At a recent gathering of the top doctors in the country, she stood and said, “I share the nation’s concern that more than 100 people a day die from drug overdose. But I have a patient who almost died from drug under-dose.

“My patient suffered in part because of the crackdown on opioids … When I visited him in the hospital he was recovering from a suicide attempt. I apologized for not knowing his medication was denied. I failed him,” the acclaimed physician said.

The patient was denied benefits by his insurer. “The pendulum swung too far when pain was designated as a vital sign, and now we are in danger of it swinging back so far that our patients are being harmed.”

Thomas Kline, now a practicing physician in North Carolina after being a program administrator at Harvard Medical School, told FOX reporters. “We have a terrible problem. We have people committing suicide for no other reason than being forced to opioids for chronic pain.

“It is mass hysteria. A witch hunt. It is one of the worst health-care crisis in our history … there are between five million and seven million people being tortured on purpose,” said Kline.

Given the choice, who among us would ever pick death over addiction? But when your opioids are no longer available, there is no choice available … except one.

Our legislature must address this immediately. This is inhumane.

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