Please Give Suffering Patients Pain Medication

As a patient advocate, I am noticing a new trend among some of my lung cancer friends. They are being denied pain relief. I believe this is an unintended consequence of the response to the national opioid crisis. Misguided, confused, or overzealous doctors are withholding pain medication from advanced cancer patients.

A Divided Pain Community

In the July 7, 2017, article “The Other Victims of the Opioid Epidemic,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst, Dr. Susan Glod describes how her patient—dying of cancer and suffering immensely with pain—was vilified for using pain medication.

“…(T)he result of an all-or-nothing approach to pain management under which the pendulum has swung from one unsustainable end of the spectrum to the other in the past two decades,” says Dr. Glod. “These interventions should not come at a cost to the epidemic’s other victims — hospice patients who are too afraid to take the medications they need to control their symptoms.”1

Another article “A ‘civil war’ over painkillers rips apart the medical community—and leaves patients in fear,” published in the January 17, 2017 issue of STAT states, “…many patients who genuinely need drugs to manage their pain say they are being left behind. Doctors can’t agree on how to help them."

“There’s a civil war in the pain community,” said Dr. Daniel B. Carr, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “One group believes the primary goal of pain treatment is curtailing opioid prescribing. The other group looks at the disability, the human suffering, the expense of chronic pain.”2

In my own local community, I know lung cancer patients who are being denied pain medication. Frankly, my friends have already lived longer than their doctors expected. In other words, they are on borrowed time. They are fighting like hell to live and are suffering and enduring pain much more than is necessary.

Friends, this is just wrong.

The Important Role of Palliative Care

It is a travesty that people who are most likely not going to live to see the next change of season are being told they cannot have their pain medicine refilled. Or they are being made to go through time consuming, cumbersome red tape.

Previously, I have written about palliative care and encouraged patients to patients to become acquainted with palliative care and connect with providers. Palliative care providers will know how to work within the system to get help for their patients. (Understand the focus on palliative care is symptom management, not hospice. Some physicians are unclear about the role of the palliative care team. There is much work to be done in this area in educating doctors and patients.) If you or someone you care about is having this problem, suggest they get connected with a palliative care team.

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