• It's getting harder and harder for people who actually need painkillers to get them

    By: Tom Regan

    Updated:

    A motorcycle accident left Robert Leroux with damage to his nerves and spine, leaving him disabled. In the kitchen of his Sugar Hill home, Leroux had a box full of medical records documenting his road to recovery. Leroux told Channel 2’s Tom Regan the fact that he is breathing is a miracle.

    “I shouldn’t even be here,” Leroux told Regan. “The unfortunate thing is the pain”. 

    For years, he has taken a prescription mix of hydrocodone and methadone to keep his pain at bay. Hydrocodone is the same type of drug blamed for over 40,000 overdose deaths in 2016. Recently, his doctors told him they could no longer increase his dosage — in fact, he says they've decreased it.  

    “We went in and the doctor’s like, ‘I’ve got some bad news. This is not easy for me to tell you, but we don’t have a choice,’” Leroux told Regan. As opioid overdoses increased, his doctors changed the way they prescribe. 

    Doctors in Georgia are required to register with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).

    The PDMP tracks the medications a patient has been prescribed in the past. The database is meant to eliminate overprescribing or duplicate prescriptions. Unlike other states, there are no prescription limits.


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    Leroux said that didn’t stop his doctor from decreasing his dosages. He believes doctors hands are tied, not by law, but by guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    In 2016, the CDC published opioid prescription guidelines for primary care physicians. It outlines suggested dosage and treatment options; it also looks at non-pharmacologic solutions.

    Regan spoke with Dr. P. Tennent Slack, who practices interventional pain medicine. He said opioids should never be the first option of treatment and when the drugs are needed, they should be prescribed at the lowest dose possible.

    Slack said while prescribers do shoulder some of the blame for the opioid crisis the balance has shifted from over-prescribing to pills being indiscriminately cut back on.

    “To the detriment of a certain subset of patients,” Slack said.

    Slack said CDC guidelines are guidelines, not rules. He said insurance companies using them can also act as a barrier. 

    “At the end of the day the best decision will be made between the patient and the provider period,” Slack said.

    For Leroux, getting his prescription filled became too difficult. He had a pump inserted in his abdomen to device feed medication to his spine. So far it has not provided relief.

    “No doubt there’s a problem with folks on opiates and dying from them,” Leroux said. “But there’s also folks that have for years relied on them to have any kind of comfort in life...now their comfort is gone and that’s just wrong."

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