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Crackdown on prescription opioids leaves chronic sufferers in pain

CANBERRA, Australia: Patients using painkillers and doctors prescribing them have been put on notice by the Federal government, as it tries to head off a US-style opioid epidemic.
But the crackdown is leaving some sufferers of chronic pain without access to painkillers.

Jodie Carter has not been able to get a prescription to deal with her chronic pain since March when her doctor received a government letter telling him to cut down her opioid pain medication.

“I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know how I am going to function,” Jodie Carter said. “I don’t know how I’m going to look after my kids.”

She has been stretching her last prescription out but now only has a week’s worth of pills are left. Carter has debilitating nerve pain in one arm and intercostal neuralgia.

She has been prescribed opioids to control the pain for 25 years.

“I’ve tried other things,” she said. “I’ve tried interventions that are outside the scope of opiates, but nothing other than that has worked for me.”

Since her doctor told her he would no longer see her as a patient, following the letter he received she has tried other GPs, but no-one will write her a script. Now she has been told she will need to go to a methadone clinic.

In July last year the Australian government’s Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, sent letters to almost 5,000 general physicians warning them their prescriptions of opioids were being monitored.

Last week the government announced it would be making post-operative opioid pack sizes smaller, and is changing indications for the powerful narcotic fentanyl so it can only be used for cancer and palliative care patients.

In the United States, more than 900 people die each week from opioid overdoses.

Dr Shapland has taken on almost 30 new patients with chronic pain who had been dumped by their usual GP after the crackdown.

Dr Paresh Dawda is another who received the warning letter. The Canberra GP specialises in aged and palliative care and says he would rather risk an audit than see people die in pain. He has also taken on more patients who dropped by their own doctors.

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