Category Archives: Pain Advocates

How did we get here?

pillflagThe numbers are staggering: in the United States, the number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids has more than tripled in the past decade, resulting in nearly 15,000 fatalities in 2008 alone and now accounting for more than 40 deaths every single day – not to mention the fact that estimated annual health care costs from this epidemic are as high as $72.5 billion.

How did we get here?

In the latest issue of Emergency Medicine News, Dr. Leon Gussow, a physician and editor of The Poison Review blog, examines how opioid analgesics – once feared as dangerous medications with high risk for addiction and overdose – became the drug class most frequently prescribed in the U.S., with four million patients a year receiving scripts for these powerful medications.

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Pain advocacy group shuts doors amid Senate probe

A U.S. Senate investigation into financial ties between producers of prescription painkillers and organizations that champion such drugs was announced Tuesday, just after the American Pain Foundation, the nation’s largest organization for pain patients, said it would shut down. The group said in a statement on its website that its closure was due to “irreparable economic circumstances.”

APF – which received 90 percent of its $5 million in funding in 2010 from the drug and medical-device industry – came under fire in December over its ties to pharmaceutical companies.

The Senate investigation was launched amid concerns that doctors and consumers aren’t getting accurate information about the risks of powerful opiate painkillers. According to the New York Times, pharmaceutical companies that received notice of the probe include OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma; Endo Pharmaceuticals, which makes Percocet; and Johnson & Johnson, which markets Duragesic.

APF – which was also sent a letter – claims on its website that “misguided state and federal policies are impeding access to appropriate and reasonable medical care for people struggling with pain, and deterring even the most compassionate medical providers from treating anyone with pain conditions.”

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Tougher pill rules pit pain patients against “junkies”

In many areas of the nation struggling with prescription painkiller addiction, measures are being implemented to tighten licensing board rules on treating pain patients. In Washington state, this crackdown has prompted a number of doctors and clinics to stop taking new chronic pain patients who are already on opiates, and in some cases to cut off current pain patients, according to this article. While the new rules don’t apply to patients with injuries, surgery, cancer or people who are dying, there has already been pushback. Some doctors say the rules are too burdensome, while pain patients say they’re being denied the medicines they have come to rely on. Others say the stricter rules will drive desperate pain patients to seek illegal pills on the black market or try risky alternatives.

But the real point of contention here seems to be one of perception. Pain patients don’t like to be perceived as “junkies” – “it’s no fun to go down to one of these druggie centers and stand in line with all these guys with tattoos and pee in a bottle,” one man says in the article. And yet, the perspective of these so-called “junkies” isn’t included. I can guarantee that if it were, this would be a different story. The 25-year-old kid who got started on Oxy at 15 doesn’t want the junkie life to be his reality, any more than the pain patient wishes to be in pain (or, if they admitted it, to be hooked on these powerful medications).

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Take action: UW Pain and Policy Group

Last week we wrote about the University of Wisconsin’s Pain and Policy Group, which lobbies for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine. The group has come under fire for receiving millions of dollars of funding from companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, according to a new investigation by Journal Sentinel/MedPage.

Some advocacy groups are now calling on Chancellor Biddy Martin to shut down the group. Here’s what to do if you’d like to weigh in:

  1. Email the chancellor or call (608) 262-9946. Here is a sample letter from Pete Jackson, the president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids.
  2. Call your U.S. and Wisconsin legislative offices: Sen. Herb Kohl, (202) 224-5653; Sen. Ron Johnson, (202) 224-5325. To find your U.S. Congressional Representative’s office, enter your zip code here. To find your Wisconsin state legislators, go here.
  3. Explain to the staffer who answers the phone that you’’re calling about an article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 2 about UW’’s Pain and Policy Study Group.
  4. If the staffer is unfamiliar with the article, ask them for their email address so you can send them the link to it.
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Univ. research defends big pharma, aids addiction epidemic

The medical school at the University of Wisconsin conducts research in favor of pharmaceutical companies in exchange for millions of dollars of funding from companies like Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, found a new investigation by Journal Sentinel/MedPage. Beginning in 2006, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report connecting deaths from prescription drugs to a 500 percent increase in prescriptions, the university began issuing their own warnings against any attempt to increase regulation of the drugs. According to the investigation, the school’s reports liberalized the prescribing practices of highly-addictive Schedule II narcotics and may have directly influenced the addiction epidemic currently raging in the U.S.

Some advocacy groups are now calling on Chancellor Biddy Martin to shut down UW’s Pain and Policy Group, which lobbies for the de-regulation of narcotic pain medicine. If you’d like to weigh in, email the chancellor or call (608) 262-9946. Here is a sample letter from Pete Jackson, the president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids.

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Doctor’s murder charge may stunt script writing, MDs claim

Nevada doctors are coming forward to defend their colleague who was charged of murder last month for a patient’s 2007 prescription drug overdose. According to this article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, several doctors say the charge will have a chilling effect on the practitioners who prescribe painkillers such as OxyContin for chronic pain management. Watchdog’s take? A little more precaution with the prescription pad is a good thing.

Read Watchdog’s recent editorial on doctors’ careless prescribing practices here.

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Purdue tests oxycodone on children for new version of drug

For the past year, Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, has been conducting clinical trials for the possible release of Oxycodone for children with moderate to sever chronic pain. According to this release from, Purdue is currently recruiting study participants for the trails, estimated to wrap up in September this year. Apparently, Purdue plays by the adage, “Get ’em while they’re young.”

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Opiate painkillers more deadly than cocaine, permanently change brain

Opiate painkillers now kill more Americans than cocaine or heroin, reports this article in Harvard Mental Health Letter. Prescriptions for opiate drugs like OxyContin have increased tenfold in the U.S. since 1990 and the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly two million Americans were abusing prescription pain relievers – almost twice as many people as are addicted to cocaine.

Unlike other forms of pain management, opiates activate the pleasure receptors in the brain, causing euphoria and leading to a high likelihood of addiction. According to the article, this risk makes prescribing painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin for moderate pain controversial.

The article also reports that certain characteristics make a person predisposed to abuse, such as age (teenagers and young adults are more likely to become addicted) and a family history of addiction. Because opiate addiction creates long-term changes in the brain and users are prone to relapse, treatment for addiction is most successful when it is completed in two phases: detoxification from the painkillers, followed by a longer or indefinite maintenance phase.

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Fla. legislature struggles to control prescription abuse, overdose

As Florida’s prescription pill monitoring program is delayed yet again, illegal pill mills and overdoses still plague the state. According to this editorial in, the database that was suppose to go online Dec. 1 was delayed due to legal disputes, not unlike legislation intended to impose further regulations on pain clinics, which was also delayed last week. Reasons for the delays include lawsuits filed by pain clinics and inadequate funding set aside by the state for the database. Meanwhile, this article from the Orlando Sentinel reports that oxycodone was linked to 77 fatal overdoses in Broward and 68 in Palm Beach County during the first six months of this year. TCPlam reports that there are currently more than 300 pill mills in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Find more information on Florida’s struggle to implement a prescriptions monitoring system here.

Read about lenient laws toward fraudulent prescribing practices in Florida here.

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Doctors grow less wary when prescribing pain meds to teens

Prescriptions for controlled substances such as painkillers and stimulants have nearly doubled among teens due in part to pain advocates and more lax attitudes toward medicating, reports this article in US News. According to a new study in the journal Pediatrics, medications such as OxyContin and Ritalin were prescribed at 6.4 percent of doctor visits for adolescents in 1994, but rose to 11.2 percent in 2007. For older teenagers, the rate increased from 8.3 percent to 16.1 percent. The article cites sales of oxycodone as a factor driving the upward trend, with sales raising 732 percent and those of methadone by more than 1,000 percent between 1997 and 2006. Though the study did not look at the connection of increased prescribing practices to prescription drug misuse among young adults, the researchers suggest the link warrants further study.

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