Pain patients struggle to get opioid prescriptions despite rule relaxations

The CDC recently updated its opioid recommendations, but advocates worry the move is too little, too late for millions of Americans in chronic pain struggling to get prescriptions, CNN reported March 17.

Jessica Layman estimated she has called more than 150 physicians in the past few years in search of someone willing to prescribe opioids for her chronic pain, she told CNN. She has tried many non-opioid treatments for daily pain caused by double scoliosis, a collapsed spinal disc and facet joint arthritis, but nothing works as well as methadone, an opioid she has taken since 2013.

"A lot of [physicians] are straight-up insulting," the Dallas resident told CNN. "They say things like, 'We don't treat drug addicts.'"

The issue emerged in 2016, when the CDC wrote opioid guidelines that inspired crackdown laws on physician and pharmacy practices, the report said. The laws resulted in patients suddenly dealing with major dosage changes or being cut off, which can lead to withdrawal and mental health side effects.

In November, the CDC released new guidelines that encouraged physicians to focus on the needs of the patients. The guidelines eased recommendations about dose limits and warned physicians about the risks with rapid dose changes after long-term use. 

"I hope we just continue to spread caution without spreading too much fear about never using opioids," Jeanmarie Perrone, MD, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy, told CNN. She helped craft the CDC's latest recommendations.

But advocates say the damage has already been done.

The lack of coordination from other federal agencies, fear of legal consequences for providers, state policymakers unwilling to tweak laws and the spread of stigma around opioid medication will be difficult to change, the report said.

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