I never met John Jay “Bill” Hays even though he lived not far from me in California. He was just a year younger than me and had we met we most likely would have been friends.
It’s one of life’s strange coincidences that several years ago, in his home town of Sacramento, I testified before a group of California legislators. I testified about the necessity of good pain treatment and pain patients need for continuing unfettered access to opioid medications to tame the beast of rapacious [aggressively greedy] pain.
I brought my story of relentless pain and told them I was speaking for millions of Californians living with the beast of pain. I had no way of knowing that I was also testifying on behalf of “Bill” as well.
Over a year ago I wrote in my column about a young woman who had been dropped by yet another physician too frightened by the DEA to continue treating her with the opioid medicines that beat back her life threatening pain. She returned home after her appointment and related to her husband what had happened and she said, “You know what this means.”
He did, all too well. That night she, as he knew she would, took her life. She simply couldn’t put up with the pain and the constant disruption in her care by physicians too frightened to treat her life threatening pain.
Even before my testimony which I did twice in California, I testified before an FDA committee about my life of pain and how my life had been rescued from certain death by the use of an opioid medicine, the much maligned oxycodone.
I don’t recall the name of the young woman who sucummed to her pain, but I know that she and “Bill” are now spiritual partners.
Yes, ”Bill,” after being dropped by his pain doctor crossed the line from fantasizing about the release of death; he killed himself.
I imagine “Bill” in Charon’s boat crossing that awful river with his new spiritual partner on the far bank welcoming him to an underworld of no pain.
“Bill” is yet another tragic victim of the War on Pain Patients (WPP). He and the woman in Florida are members of a group of desperate, despairing people with remorseless pain who could no longer live in relentless agony.
I fear this group may grow as more and more physicians chose not to treat us, or drop us from fear of the “State” taking their practices and threatening them with prison because they treat us with opioid medicines.
In my opinion, this is where groups like Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) and the media have stoked the hysteria about the rising number of people addicted to and dying from misuse of “prescription opioids.”
The problem is that these stories and groups like PROP use the “prescription opioids” as a catchall for those who obtain our medicines legally. We are lumped in with those who use these medicines illegally, end up addicted and too often dead.
I think lumping illegal users and those of us who legitimately use opioid medicines together under the lurid headlines, Prescription Drugs Lead to Addiction and Death is purposeful. These people not only want to curb addiction related to our medicines, I’m convinced that their overall goal is to severely restrict who and under what conditions people with “non-cancer pain” can get access to these medicines.
This goal is reflective of people like members of PROP who are largely addiction physicians and do not regularly treat people with pain.
There are things we can do. I urge anyone who has run into the kinds of ill treatment that “Bill” and others have to write up your experience(s) and send them to the AMA, FDA and to everyone of your local, state and federal representatives. We need to make this a part of our treatment plan.
When I work as a therapist, even in the first contact with a new client I’m already thinking about the last contact, or, how, if we agree to work together, will the termination come about and under what circumstances. We pain patients need to keep this in our minds when beginning treatment with a new physician or with one we’re currently working with.
It is in our best interest to frankly talk about how comfortable the physician is with prescribing opioids. I would then ask that physician to talk with me at the earliest moment that he or she has come under official pressure regarding cutting back or stopping altogether opioid treatments with his or her patients.
With those areas agreed on, I’d ask for an agreement to spell out the steps in termination of the working relationship. If termination is considered by the physician we should have an agreement that s/he, at the point of termination, supply the patient with several referrals and that the physician agree to continued treatment until the patient has caught on with a new physician willing to treat them.
Even if a transfer to a new physician works well, we need to give voice to our experiences over and over. By doing so maybe we can redeem “Bill’s” wrongful death. “Bill’s” voice is in the voice of every person with pain who has ended their lives in the face of brutally relentless untreated pain.
Their deaths at the hands of ignorance, stupidity and the dreadfully wrong War on Drugs and its cousin the War on Patients is simply immoral and unethical.
There will always be people who will take addictive substances. They will always be with us and they deserve the best treatment medicine can offer. But if the drug isn’t cocaine, it’s OxyContin, or back to heroin. Restricting those of us in need of legally prescribed opioid medicines isn’t only misguided, it is criminal.
We need to be as proactive as we can for our own care while raising our voices when one of our brother’s or sister’s dies in circumstances like “Bill”.