More shaming of pain patients and their doctors


On January 13, 2015, in an unparalleled broadcast effort, Arizona’s 33 TV stations and over 93 radio stations across the state simulcast an Arizona State University produced documentary on the steadily increasing rates of opioid and heroin use. The investigative report followed the journey of several young adults as they struggled with addiction to heroin and other prescription opioids.

Many of the roads to addiction depicted in the documentary began innocently, with a doctor’s prescription or a family medicine cabinet. One subject, a 21-year-old man described his devastating path to heroin, when after a football injury in high school he was prescribed Percocet, which he continued to obtain after his prescriptions ran out through illegal avenues. When the student’s money ran short, his dealer recommended a cheaper option, heroin. Unfortunately, this sequence seems to be a common path to heroin abuse. In fact, studies have found that three out of four new heroin users previously abused prescription opioids.

First of all, most chronic pain patients are not in their 20s, yet most of these stories published in the media are about young people, who are much bigger risk-takers than older adults.  And how about a documentary on the number of pain patients who are suffering from the drug war? Why is this fight so one-sided against pain patients?

Measures in the Prescription Drug Reduction Initiative include sending report cards to physicians on their prescriptions compared to other physicians in the area and in like practices. As a result, pilot counties have seen PDMP sign up increase by over 50 percent, the number of prescribers actually using the system increase by 30 percent, and the number of controlled substances prescribed in these counties from 2012-2013 decrease by over six percent…

A decrease of six percent…  Obviously, it’s not the PDMPs that are decreasing the number of prescriptions. Doctors have decided to just stop prescribing these life-saving treatments.

PHOENIX – Arizona has had one of the nation’s highest rates of suicide in recent years, and while that rate has barely climbed for the state’s overall population one segment has seen a substantial increase: middle-aged men.

In 2002, the suicide rate for men ages 45 to 64 stood at 34.4 per 100,000. In 2012, that rate was 41.8 per 100,000, a 21.5 percent increase.

Among all Arizonans, the rate was 16.2 suicides per 100,000 in 2012, nearly the same as the 2002 rate of 15.9 per 100,000…

“The most common motive for suicide is to escape from your pain, so if you’ve got nowhere else to go to escape your pain or you think, ‘If I talk to my friend about it, he’ll see me as being unmanly, or if I ask for help it means I’m weak,’” Kilmartin said.

“The myth that men don’t get depressed is so powerful that even trained, mental health clinicians are less likely to correctly diagnose depression in men than in women,” Courtenay said. “Consequently, men are less likely to receive treatment for their depression. Left untreated, a man’s depression will often worsen and can lead to suicide.”

What happens when people in pain feel the same kind of shame and refuse to see their doctors for treatment?  Or are you trying to say that all of this pain that suicidal people are feeling is only mental?  You’ve completely taken the physical pain out of the equation.

“Honestly, they don’t want to die,” Brown said. “They’re just looking for an end to the chronic pain.”

So instead of treating people for chronic pain, the answer is to treat them for depression?

The state lies in the middle of what has become known as the Suicide Belt, a region stretching from Idaho down to Arizona and New Mexico where self-inflicted deaths are more prevalent…

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