Tonight I am angry. No, I am livid.
I’m sad too.
Yesterday I saw my primary care doctor, one of the things on my (as usual, very long) list of things to talk to her about was pain medication. Months ago she prescribed me Norco (hydrocodone and Tylenol combination, pretty low dose stuff), I still have some left since I don’t take it every day, but it’s just not working anymore. Apparently my pain has gotten so much worse lately that it is just not strong enough any more.
This isn’t the first time this is happened, it happened last fall too. Last fall I went from Tramadol (non-narcotic) to OxyContin, over night. So I’m not shocked this is happening, especially given that I have been treating lyme for 5 months which has made me very toxic and inflamed.
So my doctor asked some questions…
“How often are you using the meds you have?”
“Probably 4-5 out of 7 days in a week”
“How many are you taking?”
“2 at a time, every time, and usually twice a day.”
“How often does it not give you any relief?”
“At least 8 out of 10 times”
So she wrote me a script for something else, something stronger. But that’s not what I’m angry about.
I’m angry because I have been to SIX pharmacies today and still do not have my pills!
If you’ve never experienced the “war on drugs” (aka, the “war on chronic pain patients”) first hand, here is a little illustration for you.
* Note: This post applies mostly to schedule II drug, ie. oxycodone, oxycontin, dilaudid, morphine, methadone, even ritalin and adderall. Schedule III drugs, such as hydrocodone and codeine, are still restricted but not as severely. Schedule I drugs are things that are illegal to prescribe and use, such as marijuana, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, etc.; even though many of these are said to have medicinal benefits (that’s a post for another day, but don’t expect it from me any time soon!).
1. Doctors are all terrified to prescribe pain medication. Everything is tracked and charted and investigated like crazy, and doctors don’t want to have the government breathing down their backs. So they just don’t prescribe meds at all, even when their patients are obviously in pain. Generally doctors will tell you to go to “pain management”; special doctors who are supposed to specialize in managing pain, but in my experience are even MORE scared of writing prescriptions than regular doctors are! Even if they do write scripts, for some reason they tend to be real jerks, and have their own sets of rules. I’m talking drug tests at every single appointment to make sure you are only taking what they are prescribing, written and signed contracts agreeing not to take scripts from any other doctor, etc.
2. Once you DO manage to get a script, good luck finding a pharmacy that carries what you need!
3. If you do find a pharmacy to fill it, have fun jumping through all the hoops and following all the rules! Every pharmacy, and every location within a chain of pharmacies, has different rules. Some require 2 forms of government ID, others will hold your script for 24 hours before they will fill it, other’s won’t fill the script if you don’t live in the same zipcode as the store. There are rules about how many pills you can get at a time, how many refills you are allowed to have (usually zero), etc.
For example, my problem today; my doctor wrote a script for 20mg, but of course no one has 20mg tablets in stock. With other, non-scheduled, medication the pharmacy could simply call the doctor and get approval to give me twice as many 10mg tablets, and I could just take 2. Not with pain meds! Anything that is a schedule Ii or higher cannot be given as a verbal order, so I would have to go back to the doctor, get a script for 10mg, and then go back to the pharmacy…I may as well wait the week for them to order the 20mgs!
Meanwhile I sit here in pain, taking double and triple doses of the crap I have now, and still getting very little to no relief.
The last time I was on a schedule II drug (OxyContin) I swore I would never do this crap again. I said nothing above a schedule III (much fewer restrictions). It’s just terrible to have to deal with.
Already in tons of pain today, I spent the better part of my day running around town to 6 different pharmacies, just to be told “no” every time. Naturally this made my pain much worse, and completely exhausted me.
Not to mention that there is this huge stigma around people who use narcotic pain medication, so many people (people in the medical field included!) assume that if you have a script for pain meds (especially for a schedule II or higher) you must be a drug addict. So you get strange looks at every pharmacy, and heaven forbid you get frustrated that the 6th, or 10th, or 12th, pharmacy you’ve been to doesn’t have it, because then you’ve just proved them all right.
I experienced this first hand two weeks ago when I had my pacemaker surgery. The doctor, seeing my low-dose pain medication in my chart, assumed that I was downplaying the amount that I was on, that I must be a drug addict, and refused to provide me with pain medication during my recovery from surgery. That is just cruel.
It’s demeaning. It’s wrong. It’s pathetic that chronic pain patients are treated this way.
Now, I am not denying that there are some people who abuse prescription pain medicine, but it is not fair to make those of us who desperately need, and are responsible with, our pain medication suffer.
So as you can see, I’m furious (sorry for the long rant, by the way!). But I am also sad; I’m sad that people are treated this way, and I am sad that I am back at this place where I need to deal with this. When I got off OxyContin 7 months ago I swore that I would never again take something higher than a schedule III, it was too distressing to have to deal with all of this crap. Yet here I am again; once more I’m running all over town looking for meds, feeling angry and demeaned and mistreated.
It’s not fair, and it sucks.