Opioid epicemic may be keeping legitimate patients from getting pain meds

Patients who experience chronic pain are feeling the sting of the opioid restrictions.

Almost every morning is the same for Lauri Nickel. The pain may fluctuate but it is always there.

"Some days are better than others," said Nickel.

A staunch advocate for people with chronic pain, Nickel is upset with Arizona's leaders and elected officials.

She believes their effort to combat opioid abuse is having a negative effect on people who desperately need the drugs.

"You are sentencing people to an early death," she said.

She is convinced the extreme focus has scared doctors from prescribing opioids to longtime patients who desperately need pain medication.

The result, according to Nickel, is that many patients will simply give up and take their own life.

Barby Ingle has not given up but it has been a difficult and often gut-wrenching journey.

The former college cheerleader and coach has battled chronic pain more than 20 years.

"Chronic pain devastated my life," Ingle said. "It took everything away."

At one point the pain was so bad and the prospects ahead so dire she contemplated suicide.

"I did think about it," she said.

For the millions of people like Ingle and Nickel, opioids serve a critical role in their lives.

"It's about quality of life, about surviving day to day, minute to minute, second to second," said Ingle.

The two women say they know of several friends who have been denied access to opioids by doctors afraid to continue to prescribe the medication.

"They don't want the DEA to come knocking on their door," said Ingle.

"The people suffering from chronic pain should be mad at the people abusing the system," said Doug Coleman, the Special Agent in Charge of the Arizona DEA office.

The longtime DEA agent says his office doesn't target doctors who are prescribing opioids to legitimate patients.

Earlier this year, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called the opioid problem in Arizona an "epidemic" that the state needed to better control.

Recently, the Arizona Department of Health Services started tracking suspected cases of opioid overdoses.

In the first week, there were more than 190 suspected overdoses, 15 of them fatal.

Ingle and Nickel are not blind to the opioid problem but are worried this intense focus to curb the unlawful distribution of opioids could end up with many of their friends suffering in silence.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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