Couple protests painkiller restrictions
State regulations add to chronic pain sufferers' woes
Kate Seckinger/Columbia-Greene Media
Heather Martin, right, and Martin Pollack, both of Catskill, stand
outside Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson on Friday to raise
awareness for patients with chronic pain receive and the
medication and treatment they receive.
HUDSON - People driving by Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson on Friday morning passed two people holding up bright white cardboard signs with bold, black-painted letters.
The signs read: "Stop the mistreatment of chronic pain patients," "Let doctors treat pain" and "Take away our pain, not our medicine."
The sign-holders were couple Martin Pollack and Heather Martin, both of Catskill. Pollack has suffered from Degenerative Disc Disease for 20 years - a condition in which the discs between vertebrae lose cushioning and fragment, which causes severe, chronic pain.
The couple was not protesting Columbia Memorial Hospital's policy on painkillers, but rather the state regulations governing how hospitals dispense pain medication.
Without a high dose of opioids, or medications prescribed to relieve severe pain, each day, Pollack said he wouldn't be able to walk.
"I'd be bedridden," Pollack said, standing in front of the local hospital with the support of a cane. "I wouldn't be able to be standing up talking to you right now."
Pollack said his doctor in Catskill gives him the opioid pain medicine he needs to manage his chronic pain, but after next month, he's retiring from practicing medicine. Pollack will have the prescription to get his medicine for one more month after that, he said, but that will be it.
"It's terrifying," Pollack said. "I'm in constant pain. If I'm insufficiently medicated, I wouldn't be able to properly live, or get out of bed.
"I don't know if I'll have to leave the state, or the country, [to get the medicine I need] or if I'll even be able to."
Martin said she and Pollack are involved with the National Pain Patients Coalition - a chronic pain patients advocacy group that holds rallies nationwide.
The week was Pain Patients Advocacy Week, which continues through today.
Martin said she and Pollack attended a larger rally in Albany on Monday at the State Capitol with advocates from across the state, and decided to hold their own rally at the hospital Friday to locally raise awareness for the issues chronic pain patients endure.
"We're trying to raise awareness for chronic pain patients _ their pain is invisible," Martin said. "Many of them can't rally because they're bedridden, so we're here hoping to be their voices."
The pair described the difficulties they've had with other local physicians giving pm;y hydrocodone shots, and not enough pain medicine for Pollack to live a non-bedridden lifestyle.
"Unless you have cancer, the most you could get for pain is 120 mg [of an opiate]," Martin said. "He needs hundreds more milligrams than that each day."
Regulations against the use of opioids have increased nationwide because of the tendency for patients to become addicted to the strong painkilling medications.
"Chronic pain patients are different - chemical dependency is often confused with psychological addiction," Martin said. "They are not addicts going through withdrawals. Less than 1 percent of chronic pain patients abuse their medications."
Pollack said he tried to live without his pain medicine once, but found he wasn't able to walk.
"I shuffled into the emergency room like I was a 100-year-old man," he said. "Pain patients have to stop being treated like criminals."
"Imagine if diabetics had to fight like this for their insulin," he said.
Martin and Pollack said they faced many issues with getting proper medication at Columbia Memorial Hospital.
"The hospital politely declines comment," Eli Fanning, public relations manager with CMH, said Friday.
The staff at CMH also declined to comment on the general treatment of chronic pain patients, or state pain medication regulations.
Other calls to medical professionals in Columbia and Greene counties were not returned.
In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first national guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, according to the Journal of American Medicine Association.
The guidelines were intended to "improve communication about benefits and risks of opioids for chronic pain, improve safety and effectiveness of pain treatment and reduce risks associated with long-term opioid therapy," also according to JAMA.
Pollack and Martin said they've faced the hassle of moving west to states like Montana and Washington that have less stringent laws than New York for chronic pain patients to get their medicine.
Pollack said a law was recently passed in Washington to make it easier for chronic pain patients like him to get the treatment they need.
"Going there might be our best bet," he said of states like Washington or California.
At this point, Pollack said there is no legislation in the works in New York to make it more accessible to get the medication he needs.
"If anything, there's only legislation on the table to make it more difficult," Pollack said.
In 2013, the state's Internet System to Track Over-Prescribing took effect in wake of a statewide increase in opioid-related deaths over the last decade. In 2012, the opioid deaths in the state totaled almost 500,000 cases compared to less than 100,000 in 2004, according to a presentation by Judith Barrett with the state Department of Health.
The I-STOP law requires medical practitioners to consult the state before prescribing opioids, and a number of other mandates to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions and deaths.
In one year of I-STOP, there was a 8.72 percent decrease in total opioid prescriptions, and a 10.4 percent decrease of patients with a prescription in the state, according to the state DOH presentation.
Over the past two years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed several bills into law to make prescribing the painkillers more difficult.
Martin said they've written letters to Cuomo, and several elected officials and representatives about erasing the stigma of treating chronic pain, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, state Sen. George Amedore, R-46, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-19, and President Barack Obama, but the letters have gone unanswered.
"To decline someone with searing chronic pain the medicine they need _ I hope these politicians and lawmakers suffer and feel the pain they're causing someday when they get older," Pollack said. "I hope they don't have access to the medicine they're denying others so they know what it's like."
Pollack argued the United States is supposed to be "the land of the free."
"People in the United States have no ownership over their own bodies," Pollack said. "They have no freedom to do as wish with their own skins. _ That doesn't sound like a free country to me."
Reach Kate Seckinger at 518-828-1616 ext. 2495, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @KateSeckinger on Twitter.
April 23-30, 2016