More chronic pain patients say they're denied medication - WRBL

More chronic pain patients say they're denied medication

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Intense pain is keeping Stella Jones, 69, from living life to the fullest. Intense pain is keeping Stella Jones, 69, from living life to the fullest.

An 8 On Your Side investigation into why legitimate pain management patients can't get their mediation led dozens of other patients to step forward, begging for help.

A government crackdown on Florida's notorious pill mill problem had an unintended consequence. It was a much-needed effort to shut down pill mills and stop abuse of prescription drugs, but now, legitimate patients are being turned away at the pharmacy.

Intense pain is keeping Stella Jones, a 69-year-old retired school teacher in Bradenton, from living life to the fullest.

"Ii still have a lot of energy and want to do things," Jones said. "I've always been very active, up until lately."

Now, Jones can't get her oxycodone pills at her pharmacy. At first, she shopped pharmacies, looking for one that had pills in stock and would fill her prescription. But she says that made her feel like a drug addict. So, eventually, she just stopped trying and now lives with the pain.

Her doctor prescribed something less affective, but it doesn't work as well.

"It's like eating an M&M," Jones said.

So she spends most of her days sitting on her couch because that offers a little bit of relief. Standing hurts. Walking is excruciating.

"My femur was broken, and my hip was broken, so they did an operation and put bars in my leg," Jones said.

Congressman Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, told 8 On Your Side that he wasn't aware of so many patients having trouble getting their medication. Now that he knows, he said he'll ask his staff to look into the issue.

"We can't abridge somebody's right to their health care," Ross said. "And I think that if it's prescribed by a licensed medical doctor, if they are entitled to it, there ought to be a supply for it. I don't know what happened. I'd be happy to look into it."

Dr. Gabriel Somori, of Florida Medical Clinic, treats about 900 chronic pain patients and says more than half of his patients have trouble getting their medication on time. He says he supported the crackdown on drug abuse, but it has gone too far.

"What would they say if all of a sudden you couldn't get your heart medicine, couldn't get your diabetic medicine, couldn't get your cancer medicine or treatment because of other people doing bad things?" Somori said. "It's just unacceptable."

The state and national crackdown on Florida's pill mills got results. Attorney General Pam Bondi led a state effort to shut down pill mills, where doctors wrote phony prescriptions for narcotics like OxyContin, Oxycodone and Dilaudid.

A drug monitoring data base was launched so doctors could check up on patients wanting pain pills, to make sure they had not already received them somewhere else.

Since state legislation passed in 2011, there has been a 52 percent decline in oxycodone deaths and a 23 percent drop in prescription drug overdose deaths.

The DEA also has stepped up enforcement. Pharmacies have been fined for filling prescriptions from pill mill doctors, and the supply of opioid medication has been drastically cut.

Somori says that hurts legitimate patients who wait in long lines for their medicine and then find out the pharmacy is already out of its monthly allotment.

Bubba Hamm, of Zephyhills has a debilitating back and neck condition.

"I literally just lay in bed and cry, I hurt so bad," he said.

His physician prescribes OxyContin and dilaudid. Together, the two medicines give some relief. But lately, Hamm walks out pharmacies empty handed. He says he's told the drug store is out of pills, or pharmacists are afraid they'll get into trouble with the government if they let him have them.

So he ends up pharmacy shopping. On a recent shopping trip, he drove 35 miles and went to eight pharmacies.

"I think the DEA and the government are doing wrong to the people who really need the medicine, like me, at my age, I gotta have something to get me through," Hamm said.

Bruce Tipton had surgery to repair a broken back and neck. Even with the medicine, he said, he's never completely out of pain.

"You live on those pills," Tipton said.

"And then you go to the drug store and they say, 'He has drug behavior. He got made when we couldn't fill them,'" Tipton said. "Well, think about it. How would you like to be up all night waiting for that one more pill and then know the next night, it's going to be worse?"

It takes just 12 hours without his pills before he goes into withdrawal. Tipton said he's embarrassed that he's dependant on the medication. But he said it's the only thing that helps him get through the day.

"It's like everything is pulling to the core of your inside and it's just big strikes of pain and it just keeps on and on and on," Tipton said.

Bondi, the face of Florida's pill mill crackdown, is hearing from upset pain management patients. She says nothing her agency did contributed to the problems.

"Our legislation does not prevent pharmacies in any way from giving them the drugs that they need," Bondi said. "That's an issue with DEA, and I do plan on talking with DEA, and I do share your concerns because I've heard it from many individuals."

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


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