October 25, 2018 3:43 pm

Roy Green: Opioids are not the enemy yet the war on pain patients continues

The NDPs urged the federal government to launch an investigation into the role that drug companies played in "fueling the opioid crisis" in Canada during Question Period on Wednesday.

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Even though I haven’t spoken about the issue of chronic pain on the air for a while, it is rare for a week to pass without emails from good people suffering horribly.

These are good people who have been denied opioid pain medication, even though for years the medication had successfully controlled their agony sufficiently to allow them a reasonable life. And now that medicine has been withdrawn arbitrarily, with no concern for violent consequences.

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No matter how frequently I speak with good people who are not — and I stress that — not drug addicts, no matter how often I interview mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, or orphaned children about the deaths of their loved ones, the outrageously indifferent attitude among medical professionals and woefully ignorant politicians continues.

READ MORE: London, Ont., researchers develop protocol to drastically reduce opioid prescriptions

I began to share with a doctor the story of a chronic agony patient who had died. The doctor cut me off with a bellicose rant that prescribing of opioids must end, that this “poor addicted person should never have been issued a prescription for opioids.”

“No, doctor,” I replied. “The death of the patient was by suicide and because physicians had arbitrarily refused to write opioid prescriptions for a man whose widow was left to share with a stranger the cruelty to which her spouse was exposed.”

For years, this man had been issued opioids which allowed him to work, to interact socially and to keep his terrible pain somewhat at bay.

Then, following the release of opioid pain guidelines in 2017, family doctors, pain clinics, and hospital emergency wards had all turned their backs. “Drug seeker,” they labelled the patient. “Drug seeker” either followed or preceded this man from medical facilities to doctors’ offices. “Drug seeker.” The term shut the door in his face.

Eventually, at 53 years of age, unable to bear the agony to which he was consigned any longer, he sought refuge from a .357 magnum pistol.

READ MORE: Chronic pain patients who take opioids are stigmatized, study says

Such stories are not uncommon. You have heard them on my program as I have spoken with the widows, widowers and orphans. Their loved ones did not succumb to an opioid overdose. They were driven to suicide.

You heard Beth, a young woman born with spinal cancer, on air this summer. Beth recorded and played back her conversation with a representative of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, whose job it is to listen to and advise chronic pain patients in life-challenging distress. That this young woman was even more emotionally fragile following her call to CPSO was no surprise to anyone who heard the call.

LISTEN BELOW: Beth’s call to Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons

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Beth had been prescribed opioid medication for years before being cut off by her pain specialist. He believed that to continue prescribing to Beth as before would, in the face of issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for non-cancer patients, place his medical licence at risk.

It appears to have failed to register with this physician that he was dealing with a woman who began life afflicted with cancer.

It’s the same story for a 76-year-old military veteran and retired police officer. You heard him share being arbitrarily and very rapidly cut off opioid pain medication and suffer the cruelty that for him passes as health care in Ontario.

READ MORE: Opioid crisis may be lowering Canadians’ life expectancy, report says

Patients in Alberta and British Columbia have shared similar experiences.

Several times, I have invited the CPSO to appear on my program. I set no rules which might be difficult for the College to accept. That is, unless an offer to an open debate with physicians of their choosing, in studio or by phone, one hour or two, with or without caller input, unfairly stacks the deck.

My only expectation was that medical writer Marvin Ross join me. You might want to read Marvin’s article, When do Guidelines Become Guidelines.

CPSO, which had earlier approached me with an offer to make its president available for an on-air interview, subsequently went dark and repeatedly refused to even acknowledge receipt of my invitation for a broadcast.

READ MORE (From 2010): Ontario doctors fear growing addictions to opioids

Increasing public accounting of the “torture” chronic pain patients suffer may now have CPSO backpedalling.  Somewhat.

The College recently published, “A Message to Patients Living with Chronic Non-Cancer Pain.” The message is more conciliatory toward pain patients and appears to instruct doctors to cease the almost institutional cruelty of the kind to which Beth and the military veteran were exposed.

Not all chronic pain patients, by estimate up to 30 per cent of the population, require opioids. The decision, though, should be theirs to make. If analgesics and other non-opioid options fail to control life-altering pain, then prescribe what these patients require.

WATCH BELOW: Understanding the Opioid Crisis in Ontario

Recently, tales have surfaced of cancer patients being refused effective pain management through prescribing of necessary levels of opioids.

This I know personally to be true, and as far back as 2014. As my wife battled one of the most vicious cancers on the spectrum, she was prescribed such low doses of opioids their impact on her suffering was effectively nil.

A blunt and direct conversation with her doctor resolved that issue quickly. I can’t help but worry, though, about patients who have no advocate and are at the mercy of a mindless policy which fails to accept pain patients are not addicted to opioids. Pain patients are instead addicted to living free of agony. That’s a point I made to a clearly puzzled former federal Minister of Health and medical doctor Jane Philpott, who insisted time and again during the interview, that I was making “excellent points.” That interview is available as well at roygreenshow.com.

It is almost inconceivable, or should be, that human beings in constant agony are almost casually deprived of an easily available and relatively inexpensive substance which lowers their level of suffering.

The offer to CPSO for the broadcast remains. I know Mr. Ross is also well-prepared.

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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