Guest Column | Common sense is key in the ‘war on opioids’ abuse

I would like to address the efforts to fight opioid addiction. While it is true the illegal use and sale of opioids is something we must battle, we should try to be sure we are dealing with the offenders and not the truly sick people who properly use opioids for chronic conditions that are debilitating.

I have a friend who has a number of disabilities that leave her in constant pain and has safely and effectively been taking pain medication under a doctor’s care for quite a few years. I have been driving her to appointments.

Since the new “war on opioids,” people who use pain medication containing opioids must now see a pain management physician (specialist) on a monthly basis and be subjected to urine analysis and a barrage of alternative treatment suggestions such as yoga and meditation. There are few pain specialists in the area, and they are terribly backed up time wise. People who are seriously disabled in wheelchairs and with oxygen, or very elderly people, are waiting at their appointments for literally hours in a doctor’s office, often in extreme discomfort.

I have taken her to appointments three times in three months and waited as long as four hours. One time I watched two full-length movies. At another, I met a couple and the man had just been released from the hospital after surgery and had to wait with his wife and daughter for hours to get his prescription approved. It was an eye-opener to me.

While I understand some people may abuse their medication, I am sure most people, some very old, some veterans who sustained injuries fighting for our country, are not criminals. Imagine having to go through a half day or so every month to justify your medications if you are still working. Or someone severely crippled trying to do yoga to ease their pain when they cannot walk, stand or bend their joints. I think yoga and meditation are wonderful wellness tools, but some people need more.

And there is the cost - the co-pay for a specialist is way more than for a family physician. For those on fixed incomes, like Social Security or veteran benefits, this can be a real financial burden.

I am truly on board with a war on opioid ABUSE, but I have observed the old, sick, and poor being punished and put through hardships that are really draconian. For example, I met a woman in her mid-90s in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank bent over in her chair in extreme discomfort, and the nurse came out and asked her driver “Could they go somewhere and come back in a few hours?” After they had been there already for several hours. It was 104 degrees outside. Imagine if this was your mom or dad. Or you. I honestly discovered a new found appreciation for my own health.

The out-of-pocket cost to patients and Medicare are huge, as well. Those costs not only fall on the patients, but also on the taxpayers. It will surely overburden the Medicare system.

The opioid crisis is real, and the pain to the families of those who overdose and those who are torn apart by their addiction is real. It must be addressed. But I believe we do need to be sure that we are waging war on opioid offenders.

Family physicians are, or should be, perfectly competent and capable of detecting red flags. When facing any crisis, it is a good idea to use common sense about the methods and tools we are using to combat it. Making a majority of decent law-abiding people suffer for the errant ways of some seems to me like overkill.