People with chronic pain are asking for their medications back after they say the national opioid crackdown has left them suffering.
Critics say it started in 2016 when medical professionals started using the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for this type of pain medication as a “one size fits all”.
Patients with real chronic pain find themselves without any relief and many have lost access to the medication that gets them out of bed.
As KSBY found out, the unaddressed pain is driving some people to the point of suicide.
The issue is this: doctors are afraid to prescribe and the patients who really need it are left to fight on their own.
“It felt like somebody had poured a gallon of gasoline on my head and struck a match,” said Chuck Malinowski, a patient dealing with chronic pain.
Malinowski suffers from complex regional pain syndrome.
“Loss of muscle strength, coordination, my sense of balance just goes completely out the window. I begin to have great difficulty speaking and stammering,” Malinowski described.
He was diagnosed with the condition after two separate injuries.
He says opioid pain relievers are the only things that allow him to live a normal life.
But patients like Malinowski are caught in the middle of a war on drugs.
New CDC guidelines mean they have had their medications tapered off or completely eliminated and he says it’s forcing some to take their own lives.
“I am left in so much pain that please somebody just shoot me in the head so that I don’t have to live with this pain anymore,” Malinowski said.
The new guidelines were developed to combat rising opioid overdose deaths.
But the problem, as one local pharmacist explains, is that the voluntary recommendations are being taken too far.
“We had to discharge about 40 to 50 percent of our patients to keep the medications that I needed within the limits of what they would ship me and those patients had to go someplace else,” said Scott Guess, pharmacist and owner of En Soleil Pharmacy in Atascadero.
The DEA limits the number of opioids that can be manufactured and Guess says it leaves many patients empty-handed.
“Because all the pharmacies are under these kind of restrictions, someplace else is a problem because nobody else can get them either,” Guess said.
In the case of Malinowski’s former pain management doctor, many specialists fear too many opioid prescriptions could cost them their license or even lead to criminal charges.
“The new doctor there says, ‘No, I’m just cutting you off of the oral opiates completely. I’m not going to risk my license for you,'” explained Malinowski.
“We are so scared they are going to turn into addicts,” Guess added.
The CDC guidelines were intended only for primary care physicians and not specialists like pain management doctors.
The American Medical Association recently called out pharmacists, insurance companies and federal and state regulators for taking the CDC’s guidelines out of context.
“It is the national body of physicians standing up and saying, ‘Folks, you are causing harm with this rule with inappropriate following or implementation of this guideline. You are causing harm to patients,'” Guess went on to say.
Guess says the national opioid crackdown was designed to cut down on the number of deaths – something that hasn’t happened.
“Prescribing has gone like this (hand motion down), while opioid-related deaths have gone like that (hand motion up),” Guess said.
In what has become a matter of life or death for some patients, Guess looks to his colleagues for solutions.
“Patients are being tapered off of medications not for medical reasons, but for political reasons and that is causing an amazing amount of harm,” Guess added.
According to the CDC, in 2016, 46 people died every day in America from overdoses involving prescription opioids.
KSBY reached out to the CDC and is waiting to hear back.