"Don't punish the pain," is now the rallying cry for chronic pain patients who for years, and sometimes decades, eased long-term pain with opioids without abusing the medications, or becoming addicted.
Now, some claim confusion about prescribing guidelines and new laws that make some primary care doctors unwilling to treat chronic pain with opioids.
Tommy Stergas told 2 Works for You he has to drive to a pain management clinic in Broken Arrow from his home in Tonkawa, because he can't find a local primary care doctor to treat his many chronic pain conditions.
He blames confusion over state laws regulating opioid prescriptions and federal prescribing guidelines for making many primary care doctors hesitant to treat patients with ongoing pain.
"They've pretty much scared our primary care physicians into not treating pain," he said.
Dr. Kevin Taubman is the past president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. He said, "There was a lack of understanding for some of those individuals, the providers, even the patients themselves, about what may have been perceived as punitive possibilities."
Taubman said some primary care doctors feared they might become targets of state or federal investigations if they prescribe lots of opiates or doses that go higher than a certain amount.
Pain specialist Dr. William Yarborough told Two Works for You physicians aren't the only medical professionals unsure of what can be prescribed.
"Individual pharmacists call us and say this is quote "too much," Yarborough said, "And for some chronically ill patients it's not even on a whole lot. they don't often even know what's wrong with the patient when they make that judgment."
Taubman said the Oklahoma State Medical Association is providing doctors with additional training to clear up confusion about new laws aimed at curbing opioid abuse. It is also providing training to help physicians understand prescribing guidelines do have exceptions to allow for treating chronic pain so long as the patient is monitored for signs of addiction.
As for Tommy Stergas, "What I would like to see though is it eventually get back to where our primary care physicians that see us for every little thing can go back to treating us."
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