Turn to Tara: Is opioid abuse making doctors wary of prescribing pain meds?

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WHITE PLAINS -

New data suggests prescription medication abuse is only getting worse, but is the epidemic making doctors wary of prescribing drugs -- even to people who are legitimately suffering?

A new report suggests that a person's odds of dying by opioid overdose are now even higher than dying in a car crash. But patients say there's an overlooked side of the opioid epidemic. They say many are faced with an increasingly difficult time accessing pain medications.

Former nurse and Army engineer Marcilla Drummond says she is one of the many injured patients across the U.S. who is having a difficult time accessing pain medications. She says she uses a fentanyl patch in between back surgeries and needs it to perform basic tasks.

Drummond says recently tightened prescribing guidelines to curb the opioid and heroin crisis have left her with limited dosages that don't help. She says new legislation passed in recent weeks overlooks patients like her.

But mention the word fentanyl and it evokes the faces of people like Charlene Decker, of Armonk. She knows the horrors of burying a child at the hands of a silent killer. She still can't bring herself to clean out her oldest son's room. He died from fentanyl-laced heroin.

Decker says the new laws will save lives. The local medical community is also mostly on board.

But how can a doctor tell if a patient is truly in need? Dr. Dean Harlan, of St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, says that people still have access to painkillers, but with a nuanced approach.

“It can be difficult, but basically people are still going to be able to their painkillers, just not as liberally and as in large supply as they had in the past,” he says.

Dr. Harlan says that even when doctors deem certain painkillers like fentanyl necessary, insurance companies often won't pay for them. He says most insurance providers push for alternative options.

In Drummond’s case, she says she was forced to go to a detox facility as an alternative option and claims it did little to ease her chronic pain.

The situation leaves doctors, patients, lawmakers and voters trying to decide which is worse -- not enough painkillers, or too many.

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