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Opioid guidelines affecting patients with legitimate chronic pain, woman says

Patients diagnosed with chronic pain say opioid guidelines are affecting them as doctors nationwide taper or discontinue the prescription of the drugs altogether.

Merilee Grulli is one of those patients who lives in Florissant, Colorado. She was born with spinal stenosis, a condition in which her vertebrae grows bones over the nerve roots, causing tingling and burning pain. Doctors advised her to get a sixth surgery to treat the degenerative disease.

“I’m afraid to have the surgery because I’m afraid of what’s coming afterward,” Grulli said. “Because I know the pain is going to be horrible.”

Grulli says she worries doctors won’t prescribe the oxycodone she needs to manage the chronic pain. She says doctors nationwide are trying to curb the opioid epidemic but aren’t taking into account the patients who legitimately need the drugs.

“I would kill myself before I used heroin,” said Grulli. “And I don’t want to end like that you know. I don’t think it’s right that they’re boxing us into a corner.”

As clinicians try to curb the opioid epidemic, there’s been a pressure to reduce prescription of those drugs – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a trend in recent years of opioid prescriptions declining nationwide.

However, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services released new guidelines on October 10 to help clinicians understand how to best manage opioid prescriptions.

The new HHS guidelines explain how rapid removal of opioids from long-term users can lead to strong withdrawal symptoms. Instead, the agency advises doctors to gradually reduce opioid dependency when possible and to treat each patient on a case-by-case basis.

Grulli agrees that each patient should have an personalized plan.

“[Doctors] know that [chronic-pain patients] have to take these drugs forever,” she said. “It stinks. It’s not right. And to know that you have to take them and then not be able to get them. That’s the hard part.”