Chronic pain patients worry opioid epidemic will limit prescription medications

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ST. LOUIS – Prescription drug monitoring programs sometimes flag chronic pain patients who take prescription opioids.

Opioid deaths in Missouri rose again in 2017 to 951. Former Gov. Eric Greitens gave the green light to Missouri's multi-phase prescription drug monitoring program in July of last year. 

Deb Tauscheck, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, takes prescription oxycodone to relieve her pain, but worries the drug monitoring program could limit her access to the medication.

“I’ve been on the same dose for seven years and it works the same as the first day that I took it,” she said. 

The order creating Missouri's program says the state is facing a “public health crisis of epidemic proportions” and cites the “overabundance of prescription opioids” as the cause. 

The monitoring program in Missouri works by flagging patients who may be doctor shopping to get more medication. It targets opioid abusers, but sometimes it can hurt chronic pain patients like Tauscheck, who need the medicine to live a comfortable life.  

State Rep. Mike Moon said, if the government carved out the chronic pain patients, the program would work just fine. 

“Once those orders start branching out and affecting the lives of citizens as the executive order PDMP does, then they are overstepping their authority,” Moon said. 

Tauscheck spends most of her days at home with her dog, Athena, and her network of chronic pain advocacy groups on Twitter. 

“I started my Twitter page up and within three weeks I had more than 900 followers,” she said. “I’d find information and I would retweet it so others could see.” 

Greitens’ executive order hasn’t directly affected Tauscheck, but she advocates for chronic pain patients who have had their medications taken away. 

“It’s not a bad thing, the way it is intended to work, but sometimes it doesn’t work out for good people that haven’t done anything wrong,” she said. 

Missouri is technically the only state without a state-wide program because it doesn’t have a state-wide data base to flag prescription drug abusers. Instead, Missouri monitors works county by county. 

Moon said, even though Missouri is the only state without a state-wide program, it doesn't have the highest rate of abuse.

“Missouri is about 25 or 27 in the rankings of the 50 states,” he said. “So, if we are the only holdout state, you’d think we’d be the most abusive, but we’re not. So we’re doing something right.” 

According to the CDC, more than 9,000 people died from overdosing on prescription opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone in 2016. More than 34,000 people died from overdosing on illegal opioids like heroin and fentanyl. 

The U.S. ranks second in the world for opioid use, behind Canada. The CDC said prescription opioids can be addictive, and once people run out of them, they sometimes turn street drugs like heroin and fentanyl. 

The monitoring programs in the United States target the over-prescription of opioids, but Moon said the focus should be on the illegal drugs.  

“We are just taking a shot gun approach here and we are not looking at the problem. The problem here is illegal drugs,” he said. 

Tauscheck said her pain is "relentless."

“It’s every day, all day long. It never goes away,” she said. 

She said taking medications out of her routine would be devastating. 

“I know how much my pain hurts and I still have my pain medication. I can’t imagine what it would be like without it,” she said. 

Moon said he met with Gov. Mike Parson and thinks Parson is concerned about the opioid epidemic and the prescription drug monitoring program.

Tauscheck’s goal is to get the executive order rescinded so she and other chronic pain patients can fill their prescriptions and manage their pain. 

“There’s so many good people who should not be suffering this way,” she said. “That’s why I do this.”