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Chronic Pain Patients Caught in Middle Opioid Epidemic

Stricter regulations aimed to stop people from misusing prescription drugs are leaving patients who use opioids responsibly with greater challenges to get their medication.

"They're afraid we're abusing. We don't abuse our drugs. We need them too bad. We need them on a regular basis," said Janette Konersman. "I've heard of people committing suicide because they can't get the pain meds, and I can understand that. If I didn't have the little bit I'm getting, I can't even imagine what I would do."

Konersman lives with an invisible pain every day. She relies on opioids to get her out of bed, walk down the street, and function with the debilitating headaches she has lived with for her entire life.

"Imagine the worst headache you've ever had and then multiply it by a hundred, that's the kind of pain I'm in daily," said Konersman. "I have seven different medications that I take. Some are for seizures, some are for pain, some help me sleep."

As opioids continue to claim lives every day from suspected overdoses, Konersman and others who suffer from chronic pain say they are caught in the middle of stricter regulations enforced on doctors and pain clinics, limiting the drugs they can prescribe.

"They're looking at all the overdoses and just cutting everybody off without looking at the chronic pain patients," she said.

Her husband says she is forced to go through a series of checks before she is prescribed any more pills.

"They count her drugs every single month. They make sure she has exactly the amount of pills she is supposed to have and if she is off, oh my God, watch out," said Jeffery Konersman. "I'm sorry that those people overdosed. I really truly am. But quit hurting her because someone else screwed up. That’s not fair."

At Pain Consultants of East Tennessee, Dr. James Choo goes through a long list of evaluations before prescribing any opioids.

"Over the years, there have been a lot of rules, regulations, and guidelines that have made things very difficult for some of those patients," said Choo. "Our patients sit down with a pain psychologist for about 45 minutes and we get their social history, their psychological history, their medical history."

He says it has gotten harder for chronic pain patients to get their medication.

"Those are the folks I feel bad for," Choo said. "Right now, they are the ones that are overlooked in this equation because they are the ones taking it for the right reasons but they have to go through all of the rules and regulations and are caught in the crossfire."

While the drugs can be deadly if misused, for Janette, opioids help her live.

"If I didn't have them," she said. "I don’t know what I would do."

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