Chronic Pain Patients Ignored – the 2019 opioid tax debate

By Kris Corleone

Prescription opioid medications have become overly stigmatized as a result of the “so-called” opioid epidemic. This has put a huge and unfortunate target on patients, like me, regarding not only chronic pain but other severely painful conditions. The state and federal governments are and have been taking drastic measures to reduce opioid addiction and abuse, which would be terrific IF they didn’t, and continue to do so, at the expense of chronic pain patients. This is not fair or acceptable.

As an individual in need of opioid treatments to care for multiple chronic illness and as someone who represents the chronic pain community in Rhode Island, I have significant concerns about how these government actions will affect patient access to necessary medications. Specifically, I have great concerns with the recent implementation of the $5 million annual fee on opioid medications that was passed by the Rhode Island legislature in the last several months. Even with vocal and united opposition from the chronic pain community, physicians, and caregivers across the Rhode Island healthcare community, these lawmakers, sadly still passed this harmful bill.

What these lawmakers apparently did not consider when passing this opioid fee was the scope of medications and treatments that use opioid ingredients. Some of those include therapies for cancer, chronic pain medication(s), end-of-life care, surgeries (of any type), and more; all that require active opioid ingredients to relieve pain and provide, at least, the littlest of comfort. As a patient myself, we work very closely with our physicians to establish the safest, most effective doses and treatments based on the individual patient with respect to their specific conditions, allergies/tolerances to treatments to help relieve debilitating pain to a tolerable level.

For many of us, that means we can get out of bed in the morning, be active, hold steady employment, be able to spend time with our children or grandchildren, and maintain as much of a normal life as possible.

The obstacle… access… is being threatened by uneducated policies, such as the new 2019 Rhode Island opioid fee. This fee could raise costs on the much-needed medications themselves by placing further financial strains across the pharmaceutical supply chain which, here, means the patient. This is especially true for those of us on Social Security Disability Income, where a fixed income only allows us the basics, with zero backup for emergency situations.

This opioid fee most definitely equates pain patients to substance abuse addicts, and genuine, lawful prescriptions to illicit street drugs. This is a stigma and it does not address the opioid epidemic in any significant way. It is extremely frustrating to have to constantly carry on making our case that chronic pain patients are not misusing or abusing these pain medications.

We, the chronic pain patients, should not be punished at the pharmacy counter or anywhere else for it, especially our pockets.  Then problem is the illegal street drugs that are being lumped in with legitimate chronic pain patients, thus giving us a bad rap!

New York has already seen the negative impacts from a similar opioid tax. The reports are already showing that pharmacies, hospitals, and care centers across the state can no longer fill prescriptions and treatments because of opioid supply shortages. Because of this, patients (some being friends of mine) cannot get their medications, despite the fact they have done nothing wrong. The patients are being forced to pay considerably more so that the pharmaceutical companies don’t have to absorb the costs of the tax. The bottom line is that New York and Rhode Island placed taxes on legitimate medications, and the patients are who ultimately are paying the price, whether monetary or otherwise.

As consequences from Rhode Island’s policy become evident in the very near future, it will only make matters worse. Our already completely misunderstood pain patient communities are the ones to suffer needlessly. We have seen it in New York, and I can only hope and pray our legislators in Rhode Island recognize their mistake and appropriately rectify this very flawed opioid tax legislation. In the meantime, the Rhode Island chronic pain community will continue advocating for patient protections and access to our legitimate prescription pain medications.

It is imperative that this tax not be passed on to the patients who require these medications in order to have even the littlest bit of quality of life and not be bedridden. Chronic pain patients are being mistreated everywhere we go and this needs to change, the stigma that we are drug addicts must be removed from America’s vocabulary.

Kris Corleone

Chronic pain patient & Founder of Caring Chronic Pain Partners

(an online Facebook support group for patients suffering from painful illnesses).

Butterfly image, artist Suzy Hazelwood

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