Chronic Pain Patients Ask FDA to Ease Opioid Prescribing Restrictions

Patients with chronic pain want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ease restrictions that make it difficult for them to get opioid pain medicines.

The FDA is encouraging people to use other pain control methods as it tries to combat the nation's opioid epidemic.

At a meeting this week, several dozen patients told FDA officials about their pain and how they struggled to deal with it, NBC News reported.

One of them was Mariann Farrell of Pittsburgh, who said she has a number of conditions, including fibromyalgia and pain that can linger after shingles.

"Suicide is always an option for us," she said.

Another patient was Sandra Flores, a former emergency room nurse from Tucson, Arizona who two years ago was diagnosed with an inflammation of the membranes protecting the brain, spine and nerve endings. She said she can longer find a doctor to prescribe opioids for her pain, NBC News reported.

"I am seeing the true face of medicine," Flores said. "Now they are throwing me in the trash."

Federal health officials point to overprescribing of opioids as a major cause of the nation's opioid epidemic. Last year, the CDC said the number of prescriptions for opioids tripled between 1999 and 2015, NBC News reported.

The CDC issued guidelines recommending that doctors reduce opioid prescriptions and suggesting patients try anything else before asking for opioids.

Those alternatives include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen, ice, physical therapy and massage. The CDC also says patients may have to change their expectations about living with pain.

In addition to federal measures, at least 28 states have limits on opioid prescriptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and other states have prescription drug monitoring programs to detect health care providers writing too many opioid prescriptions, NBC News reported.

"We don't want to perpetuate practices that led to the misuse of these drugs, and the addiction crisis. At the same time, we don't want to act in ways that are poorly targeted, and end up disadvantaging legitimate patients," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

"In most circumstances, opioids should only be used for the treatment of acute pain and prescribed for short durations of time," he noted.

"However, the FDA is aware that there are certain circumstances -- such as in the treatment of metastatic cancer pain and the episodic treatment of migraine pain -- where the drugs are administered over longer periods. In select patients and for certain medical conditions, opioids may be the only drugs that provide relief from devastating pain," Gottlieb said, NBC News reported.

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