Floridians living with pain are finding it increasingly difficult to get their legal and legitimate pain medication prescriptions filled. The story of Sue, a nurse who worked with newborn babies in the intensive care unit, represents what countless Floridians face. Twelve years ago, Sue was rear-ended on her way home from work by a distracted driver and has spent every day since with disabling back pain. She had to give up nursing because of the pain and she still struggles every day to get out of bed to work as a self-employed legal consultant. Because of Florida’s well-intentioned but poorly executed efforts to crackdown on “pill mills” – criminal enterprises that masquerade as legitimate pain clinics – she is now forced to drive 2½ hours to find a doctor who will treat her because many doctors are unwilling to prescribe these drugs for fear of being labeled as a pill mill. As if that’s not bad enough, last month, she had to drive more than 100 miles to find a pharmacy to fill her legitimate prescriptions for pain medications! Recently, CVS pharmacies even started refusing to fill prescriptions from specific doctors as an official company policy.
For people who struggle to live with their pain, including some who must use wheelchairs, the hours they have to spend in their cars and work to get in and out of a car--just to find a pharmacy to fill their prescriptions--all only makes their pain worse. Floridians and all other Americans who live with debilitating chronic pain should never face more challenges to getting the care they need to live their lives.
Stop Florida pharmacies from denying pain patients vital medicines
I am writing to urge pharmacies in Florida to ensure that their pharmacists fill legal and legitimate prescriptions for pain medicines, and that they stock these medicines at appropriate levels. I am also asking the Florida Board of Pharmacy to join this effort to help resolve the current crisis of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for strong pain medications by issuing new guidelines.
As a result of efforts to crack down on “pill mills,” legitimate pain management clinics are closing, good doctors are afraid to prescribe pain medications, and pharmacists are seeing all prescriptions for certain medications with suspicion. Floridians living with pain are finding it increasingly difficult to get their legal and legitimate pain medication prescriptions filled – a story that is becoming far too common across Florida.
It’s not uncommon to hear about pharmacists giving false reasons for their unwillingness to fill prescriptions, even claiming that a doctor is not qualified to write a prescription, is under investigation, or that there is a national shortage of a medication. Some people with pain have found their long-time pharmacist unwilling to fill their prescriptions with no reasons given, despite the fact that they have filled identical prescriptions every month for years. Because the pharmacists’ explanations often are inadequate or inaccurate, these people with pain feel stigmatized, as if the pharmacist suspects them of abusing their medicines despite no evidence that this is true. In fact, all people with pain want is to use the medications their doctors prescribe for them, to get as much relief from their pain as they can.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reported that 116 million American adults live with chronic pain, costing our economy about $600 billion per year. This is easily our #1 public health issue, affecting more people and costing more money than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. On the other hand, government surveys show that only 1/10 as many people, about 12 million, abuse or use prescription pain medicines for pain relief without a prescription each year. Florida has had an issue with prescription pain medicine abuse, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that its large number of older adults also means it has more than its share of people with chronic pain. It is unethical for pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to coldly turn their backs on these people instead of helping them find relief from their pain.
I call upon the Board of Pharmacy to work with other licensing boards and professional organizations to develop a set of guidelines emphasizing the pharmacist’s obligation to provide that relief by filling legal and legitimate prescriptions for strong pain medication. I also demand that pharmacies help relieve the burden of people with pain by promoting their pharmacists’ ability to fill all legal and legitimate prescriptions for pain medicines from an adequate inventory in each store.