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Opioid crisis has flip side: Chronic pain sufferers worried they’ll lose access to life-changing drugs

As legislation and litigation are proposed to help combat the problems caused by the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, some chronic pain sufferers are concerned how they will manage their pain if the prescription opioids are taken off of the market.

Covington County and other governments have joined class-action lawsuits against the prescription drug manufacturers, charging that the company knew how addictive the drugs were when they began marketing.

Jim Walker

But Jim Walker, local radio station manager and minister, said not everyone who gets relief abuses the drugs. Walker has suffered chronic pain resulting from a train wreck that happened nearly two decades ago.

“The pain started about seven years ago, but I thought it was just a back problem,” Walker said. “It’s been 20 years since the accident and I still have problems with it.”

Walker said he consulted three different surgeons who sent him away empty handed, before he was referred to Dr. David Harrick, a pain management doctor in Montgomery.

Dr. Harrick told Walker that he had a terrible case of osteoarthritis in his lower back and that they could try several options at trying to manage his pain before he recommended painkillers.

“I have never done any illegal substances,” Walker said. “So when he said there were other options I was very happy.”

Walker went through several different procedures, including a nerve ablation, a process in which an electrical current is used to apply hat to nerve endings, effectively interrupting pain signals from that specific area.

None of them worked.

“I have had a hip replacement, one of my knees replaced and the other knee needs to be replaced,” Walker said. “So I am in constant pain, 24/7. But when he started me on the painkillers, it felt like I was brand new again.”

Walker said that he never abuses his pain medication and takes it as prescribed.

“I do believe the government has good intentions, I really do,” Walker said. “But they are not looking at the unintended consequences.”

People who are legitimately taking pain medicine by the rules are feeling criminalized or like they are doing something wrong, Walker said.

“There are two things that need to be brought to the public’s attention,” Walker said. “That the politicians who are making the rules are not taking into consideration the unintended consequences, and that chronic pain seekers will seek out the medication illegally if it comes down to it.”

Walker has already seen quantity of pills he prescribed reduced, and is worried about what might happen if they are taken away.

“Again, I have never abused any drugs or thought about suicide,” Walker said. “But the pain that I have makes me question myself just a little bit.”

Walker said that he knows of two people who committed suicide because they thought that they could not live with the pain.

Walker believes that there will be a rise in three things if opioids are completely cut off – heroin addicts, suicides and criminal activity.

“There is a supply and demand factor in play here,” Walker said. “If one place isn’t offering what you want then you go to another place which happens to be illegal, it’s common sense.”