The government response to the “opioid crises” has been to strictly regulate the prescribing of controlled substances. While attempting to rein in the abuse and misuse of these drugs, many believe the government has “implemented policy that has caused great harm to Americans in genuine need of legitimately prescribed FDA-approved pain medications.”

Those of the words of Claudia Merandi, a Providence, Rhode Island, resident who founded the Don’t Punish Pain Rally, an organization dedicated to provided people affected by chronic pain a means of getting their voices heard.

“We want to help the public understand the difference between legally prescribed opioid medications and illegal street drugs,” she said. “We need our elected officials to stand up for the 100 million Americans who live with a chronic illness.”

The third “Don’t Punish Pain Nationwide Rally” will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 43 venues across America. In Fort Myers, the event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at City Hall, 2200 Second St.

Local organizers are sisters Kathy White and Debra Aellig of Punta Gorda.

“We are a nationwide grass roots group trying to get our message heard,” said White. “The message is that the 2016 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines made to address the illicit fentanyl/heroin crisis have caused a drastic overcorrection in the healthcare setting.

“Many physicians, hospitals, and even pharmacies have stopped treating pain altogether,” she added. “The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has drastically reduced the production of pain medication, which has created a nationwide problem.”

(Tuesday’s rally in Tampa takes place outside the DEA building there.)

The CDC guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain were released in 2016. Merandi said those guidelines were intended only to provide recommendations for primary care clinicians who prescribe opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.

After the release of the CDC guidelines — and the regulations signed into law by former Gov. Rick Scott in March of 2018 — many patients found that their providers would no longer treat chronic pain. The new law limited opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply or, when deemed medically necessary, a seven-day supply.

“These patients were compliant patients, who were not abusing these FDA-approved prescription medications and always used these medications exactly as prescribed,” said Merandi, who suffers from Crohn’s Disease. “The vast majority of chronically ill and chronic pain patients have developed good patient/provider relationships with their doctors, but the government has critically fractured these relationships.

“Patients who have been treated appropriately and professionally by the same health care provider for years are now finding it difficult to obtain the pain relief they need and were receiving from these same health care providers,” she said.

Merandi believes the CDC, FDA and DEA have widely propagated a number of “myths” about the problem from the very beginning, one of which accuses health care providers of being the cause of the illicit opioid epidemic.

“Millions of chronic illness patients found that they were simply dropped from their medications, without a safe and controlled weaning process,” she said.

Media hype and false information has the public confused about the difference between legitimately prescribed opioid pain medications, and illicit illegal street drugs, such as imported fentanyl, Merandi believes.

“This distinction needs to be made and must be made,” she said. “The government must stop the fake news stories that legitimate health care providers and legitimate chronically ill patients are responsible for the illegal and illicit opioid epidemic.”

“Our big concern is with government overreach,” said Debra Aellig. “The Drug Enforcement Agency is now literally attacking and intimidating our physicians, so you cannot get the prescriptions that you’ve had for maybe many years.”

Aellig is a chronic pain sufferer due to disk problems and a spinal fusion surgery that was unsuccessful. She and Kathy have another sister, Lauren, who also has “terrible problems” with pain.

“People who don’t have pain don’t understand,” Aellig said. “It’s one thing to have a toothache for a week, but we’re talking about people who have horrible, chronic pain and are really only helped with opioids.”

Aellig pointed out that the DEA is working to drastically reduce the amount of opioids being manufactured. The Department of Justice joined the DEA in proposing a reduction in controlled substances that may be manufactured in the United States this year.

Consistent with President Trump’s “Safe Prescribing Plan” that seeks to “cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years,” the proposal reduces manufacturing quotas for the six most frequently misused opioids for 2019 by an average 10 percent as compared to the 2018 amount. Those six drugs are oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl.

“They say that that would not affect patients obtaining medication, “but this is untrue,” Aellig said. “I hear story after story of how people had to switch from one pill they could not obtain for one week, then switch again after another week. Many can’t go for two weeks without their medication. That’s like asking a diabetic to go without their insulin, literally.”

To learn more about rallies across America, visit the website http://dontpunishpainrally.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email danmearns@gmail.com.

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