'I don't know if I will survive it': Chronic pain patient says doctors lowering opioid dosage

As America's opioid crisis continues, one local woman says there's a side of the story not being told: people in chronic pain who can't take the same amount of medication they used to. 

"I am scared of what's going to happen to me and I don't know if I will survive it," said Amy, who asked us to conceal her last name for safety reasons. 

Amy said seven years ago, she ran marathons, worked as a nurse and was very active. But then she started having back pain that spread to her knees and hips until she couldn't even get out of bed. 

"I had to use assisted devices like a walker at times, a wheelchair," the 39-year-old said. "I had to use a scooter to walk my dog, crutches, braces."

After multiple surgeries, Amy said doctors diagnosed her with a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, that causes chronic and debilitating pain in her joints. 

"I became very depressed, I had suicide thoughts," she said. "Before this doctor saved my life." 

A doctor she says who put her on an opioid regiment almost four years ago. But now doctors are telling her she has no choice but to start taking less. 

"Amy never complains," said her husband Pat. "But we can't take away the tools that are allowing her to hang in there."

A spokesman for her clinic said a few weeks ago, the medical director told doctors to begin tapering down dosage levels for chronic pain patients and offering other options. The same spokesperson said it's not unique to their clinic, but it's something happening all over the country. 

This comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines last March to recommend doctors try other options before resorting to painkillers for patients, in an effort to curb accidental overdoses in the country. 

According to the CDC, more than 40 Americans die every day from painkiller overdoses.

Under the new guidelines, the CDC also wants doctors to prescribe the lowest effective dose possible.

"I think over the years people have reached to [opioids] earlier without trying non-opioid medications first," said Dr. Dermot More O'Ferrall, who treats patients at Advanced Pain Management in Fox Point. 

More O'Ferrall is not Amy's doctor and he does not work at her clinic. He said higher doses of opioids for pain management can increase the chance of accidental overdose by up to 900 percent. 

"There are many other strategies we can do besides just prescribing an opioid to help reduce the patient's pain and improve their function," he said, adding that physical therapy and injections are some of the alternative treatment methods. 

Amy said she's tried other strategies and nothing has helped. 

"When you're in chronic pain, it drains your energy," Amy said. "If I can't get out of bed, if I can't get in the shower, what kind of life is that for me?"

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.

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