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The upside of opiates: How drugs taken properly are saving lives

KENOSHA COUNTY -- Michael Weirich, 51, rarely leaves his Kenosha County home.

Michael Weirich

Michael Weirich

When he does, he makes sure wherever he's going has a bathroom and that he can get to it quickly.

Using the bathroom presents two major problems for the Air Force veteran.

Michael Weirich

Michael Weirich

The first is because of a condition called Autonomic Dysfunction, he is not in charge of his bowels which is why he wears a colostomy bag. The bigger problem is that every time he digests a meal, he's in a great deal of pain.

"It's in my intestine. That's where 90 percent of my pain is and it's from multiple surgeries," Weirich told Fox6 recently from his home. "From the time I get up to the time I go to bed, I'm in constant pain. I've been hospitalized 30 times in the last six years for that."

Michael Weirich

Michael Weirich

Because of that, Weirich only eats enough to survive and each meal is topped off with a prescription opioid to help combat the intense pain that comes as his food is being digested.prescription-painkillers3

Weirich is on disability and he watches a lot of television. He's seen many of our Dose of Reality reports about the epidemic of opioid abuse and he's worried that people abusing prescription pain killers are tainting the way the public looks at people using the drugs responsibly.

Michael Weirich

Michael Weirich

"I just want to let people know that not everyone who takes these drugs is a drug addict. There are actually people who take them who need them like I do. If I didn't have them, I couldn't eat at all," said Weirich.

Doctor Scott Hardin of Aurora Health Care, is well aware that medications have been abused but too knows the quality of life they can add to patients when taken properly.

Dr. Scott Hardin

Dr. Scott Hardin

"There are very few to zero patients who died taking their prescriptions the way they are supposed to," said Dr. Hardin.

Dr. Scott Hardin

Dr. Scott Hardin

Hardin says pain doctors and patients need to work together to make sure most patients are on them for a short time only.

"When we begin our patients on opioids we also have a plan to get them off -- an exit strategy -- so they're on there for a short period of time compared to the past," Hardin said.

The reason for the increase in opioid overdoses is that patients don't realize how strong the drugs are and often take more than they should or physically alter the pills in an attempt to get a high. This is often a fatal mistake.prescription-painkillers2

As for Weirich, he wants people to know how careful most patients are.

"I hope they know there are people who take them like they're supposed to and I go to the doctor every month like I'm supposed to and that there are people who take them and need them," said Weirich.

Michael Weirich

Michael Weirich

Dr. Hardin says he can't stress enough how important it is to follow directions, this is where you come in even if you're not the patient. Keep tabs on how often, and how, a loved one is supposed to be taking painkillers. For example, if a 20-day supply is gone after ten days, there's a problem and the prescribing doctor needs to know about it.

7 comments

  • Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D.

    I can acknowledge and respect the doctor’s good intentions when he writes “When we begin our patients on opioids we also have a plan to get them off — an exit strategy — so they’re on there for a short period of time compared to the past,” However I must gently suggest that he’s deluding himself. An exit strategy is appropriate in cases of acute pain that are expected to resolve. But large numbers of chronic pain patients will never be able to go off opioid medications because they are the only therapy which works to give the patient even a marginal quality of life. It is time for mainstream practitioners to put aside their naivete and deal with this fact.

    • Anne Fuqua

      Some patients may require opioids indefinitely. The medical community must accept this. When starting opioids, the doctor doesn’t know if they will be effective or if the side effects will be burdensome. This is why healthcare professionals SHOULD have a plan to rotate or taper if side effects are burdensome, there is no benefit, medical status changes (ie prolonged qt interval in a patient on methadone), there is serious aberrant behavior, or the patient themself wants to decrease or stop medication. It’s responsible to have a plan even if you don’t foresee improvement in the patient’s condition because some patients don’t respond well to opioids and doctors SHOULD be prepared to rotate or taper the medication for these patients. Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean that tapering is necessary of course!

      • lawhern

        Anne, I would agree with you — with one condition: doctors should be advised to conduct genomic testing for enzyme faults associated with poor opioid metabolism, before making the decision to withdraw patients from opioids. Though some doctors may quail at the thought, the best solution for the patient “might” be a major increase in dose level, rather than rotating them off these meds.

  • Anne Fuqua

    Thank you for telling this story. Michael Weirich is one of the tens of thousands of patients who DO have functional benefit from opioids. These patients are paying a terrible price for mistakes others made. Preventing addiction should not AND need not harm chronic pain patients. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • Mirko

    wow 2 years and only one story about the POSITIVE side of Opiate use! How irresponsible reporting! There are way more people using their meds responsibly than overdoses.Why should they suffer because of Drug addicts? There is no need to make it harder for People with Chronic Pain to get their Meds.

    • lawhern

      An important deadline is near: Friday March 3 closes out comments to the FDA proposed action to make the CDC opioid guidelines a mandatory standard for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. I urge each and every one of you to clip the following text, sign it, and email it to AdvanceNotice2018@cms.hhs.gov

      =====================
      I write to add my voice to those of hundreds of thousands of chronic pain patients who are pleading with you NOT to make the March 2016 CDC guidelines on opioid prescription a mandatory standard for medical practice in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. The guidelines as written reflect a fraudulent and scientifically wrong mis-direction of US government policy that is destroying the lives of people like me for no good purpose. Restriction of opioid availability to pain patients does NOTHING to reduce the wave of opioid-related deaths due to street drugs.

      The real risks of addiction are less than one percent in properly managed pain patients who have no previous history of involvement with illicit drugs. To deny hundreds of thousands of us pain relief in the name of a fictitious “epidemic” caused by nonprescription opioids amounts to torture and a violation of fundamental human rights. It is outright EVIL to do this to people in pain.

      Stop the war against chronic pain patients!

      Sincerely,

Comments are closed.