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Sorry, no pain pills here

Dan is blindsided at pharmacy by new NYS law when he tries to fill his script.

Last week, my esteemed colleague Sandi of Sandi’s Ow! posted an article about her growing anger with those who abuse pain medicine. These people are making it harder for legitimate narcotic users to get medicine, such as Sandi and myself. Well, I had planned to write about my own horrible pain pill adventures before I even knew Sandi was penning her column about a similar subject. Unlike her, though, I blame the government more than the addicts.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let me explain the ordeal I went through attempting to fill my script. For those of you who don’t know, I have been using heavy narcotic pain medication for over ten years. I have four joints replaced, spinal compression fractures, carpal tunnel syndrome, and countless other aches and pains. What can I say? Twenty-five years of Rheumatoid Arthritis has taken its toll on my body. My doctors still want me to have some quality of life, though, and in order to facilitate that, my pain has to be controlled otherwise I won’t get up in the morning. With no other remedy, I take narcotics. A lot of narcotics.

My pharmacist once asked me, “How do you stay upright?” when I handed over my pain pill script. I remember thinking, “when it’s a choice between narcotics and soul-crushing pain, I chose drugs.” Please don’t interpret that to mean that I take my legal addiction lightly, for quite the opposite is true, and make no mistake, that’s what it is – an addiction. I am forever chained to a thirty-day pill cycle, so much so that I have to plan vacations around it. This is another wonderful side effect of the government’s “crackdown,” as they banned refills on pain medication years ago, and scripts are only good for 30 days. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The regimen that I am currently taking took over a year to figure out. The pain specialist I was seeing at the time tried every single medication in the book – hydrocodone, oxycodone, Dilaudid, morphine, Lyrica, Fentanyl, Darvocet, Lorcet, Ultram, Percodan, Demerol, Actiq, Opana, and all combinations therein. When all was said and done, we settled on my current mixture of Oxycodone IR and Oxycontin (Oxycodone SR). So you can see that when I say I’ve tried every pain medication available, it’s not hyperbole. The year and a half of suffering and sleeping I went through finding a pill that worked is my proof.

Of course, all of this is documented in my medical records and justified with blood tests and other empirical evidence. It’s a good thing, too, because just two short years ago, Medicare tried to take my Oxycontin away from me. It costs about $5000 dollars a month since there is no generic pill, and that’s just too much money. Pain is only worth a few hundred dollars a month to insurance companies. If they are paying more you better check because you’re probably missing a limb. My provider wanted to drop me to 1/4th of the Oxycontin dosage overnight, which as any first-year medical student can tell you, is a move that could be potentially life threatening. The withdrawal alone would make me sick like a rabid animal, and the R.A. pain would be akin to a nice long stretch on the rack. Happily, a judge agreed and forced the insurance company to pay for the medicine. It took an entire year of phone calls, though, and during that time I had to use Methadone as a substitute. I don’t remember much from those 12 months, as I caught a transient case of narcolepsy due to drowsiness caused by the drug. I fell asleep sitting, standing, walking, eating, driving, and I can’t count the amount of times I slept half the night on the toilet. Sometimes I’d even pass out mid-sentence, and as my brain was shutting down, gibberish would spew from my lips. My now-fiancée got a real kick out of some of the crazy things I used to say, she even kept a running list of the top ten. One of her favorites was when I told her “Your face is like crushed apples. I wish I could meet a girl who came with free TV and Internet.” One day I’ll post the full list and we’ll all have a laugh.

As you can see, I am very experienced when it comes to narcotics, their effects, their dangers, and dealing with the government and insurance companies. Now, I try to keep abreast of all new developments, so you can imagine how I felt when blindsided this month by a new DEA law in the State of New York that will end up seriously hurting those of us who use narcotics legally.

A year or so ago, when a lunatic walked into a pharmacy in Yaphank, New York, and shot four people while trying to steal pain pills, I turned to Allison and said “that’s it, it’s only a matter of time until they take my pain meds away.” I hate it when I’m right. Almost a year to the day later, I walk in to my local CVS, where I have been filling my narcotic scripts for almost ten years, and I’m told “I’m sorry, we have been trying to get those pills for a month. You should try another pharmacy.”

Now, before any of this happened, if you walked into a pharmacy you had never used before and asked them to fill the largest narcotic prescription that they had ever seen, or probably would ever see, the odds that the pharmacy would actually fill the script were about a billion to one, against. Now, picture doing that in today’s atmosphere of “Oxycontin is a four-letter-word,” and you can get a taste of the predicament I was in. Even so, I walked over to Walgreens on the off chance they would help me, and to see the look on the pharmacist’s face when I showed him my script.

When I arrived, I handed the script to the pharmacist behind the counter and waited for the usual reaction where the eyebrows go up and then the eyes go wide. After that happened, I was told that not only couldn’t they get the pills, but also two of their other patients were ahead of me on the waiting list. It was more information than I expected, but the result was the same. I thanked them and left.

Next, I decided to try a private business, not a chain store because they might use a different supplier. Or something. I walked in and explained my situation to the pharmacist. He looked at the script for a few seconds and then told me why he wasn’t going to fill it. He said there was a new law put in place by the DEA in New York. This law states that pharmacies are only allowed to order a specified amount of certain types of pain pills per month, and there is no appeals process. That means if I need 300 pills and the pharmacy can only order 100 that month, I’m screwed. The private pharmacist went on to explain that if he filled my script, he would have to deny five other customers. I thanked him, left, got back in the car, and went bananas.

Is this for real? I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. The DEA was now limiting the amount of medication a pharmacy could get? With no regard for legitimate users such as myself?! You’d think they would have looked at my local CVS and their ten-year history of ordering the exact same amount of pain pills every month and make allowances. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t how our government works.

The worst part is who this law is going to hurt. Big drug dealers steal cases full of pills and sell them on the black market, they aren’t sending 20 addicts with 20 small scripts to the local CVS. Even if they were, do you think they’d call attention to themselves by making the script so large that the authorities took notice? Of course not. So who does that leave being hurt? People like me who need large amounts legitimately and get denied. Unfortunately, lawful users like me make up a very small minority, and the war on drugs has to look like it’s succeeding. Even though this law actually does very little to stop large-scale drug dealers, it sure does look good to the general public! This law screams “we are doing something about pain pill abuse,” which has become an epidemic, apparently. It makes everyone involved look good enough to get reelected, at the expense of those of us who are already in enough pain.

I would say let’s rise up and form a coalition or advocacy group, but it would be an uphill battle. Why do I say that? Public perception. When I told two people I had met exactly what was happening, their response was that I should “try acupuncture,” because “those medicines should be illegal altogether. Oxycontin is more addictive than Heroin.” Thank you, Dateline. It gets worse, though. When I had to make a police report about some pain pills I lost, the cop told me “is this a mistake? No one needs this many pills. Your doctor must be some quack?” I wanted to say “Ask U.S. News, they put him in the top ten list.” I said nothing, though, because I know how the world works. It’s a shame, but it’s the truth.

Mark my words, folks, soon they will decide to outlaw strong narcotics altogether, and people like me and you will have no resort other than to suffer. Well, that or buy our pills illegally – exactly what the law is trying to prevent.

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