Human Rights Watch, (HRW) a well known international organization reporting on human rights violations around the world is turning its attention to the United States. They are launching an investigation into the treatment of chronic pain patients in the U.S.. The impetus for this investigation started when researchers were studying the treatment of cancer and palliative care patients -- and saw poorly treated pain as a human rights issue.

 

"People we interviewd who didn't have access to appropriate medications for their pain were essentially giving testimony that was almost exactly the same as the testimony we were getting from victims of police torture," says Diederik Lohman, Director of Health and Human Rights for Human Rights Watch. "And we realized this was actually one of those issues that almost no one was paying attention to. People were facing tremendous suffering that actually could be relieved pretty easily through very inexpensive palliative care and pain management."

 

In most third world countries, Lohman says opioid pain medication like morphine are difficult to obtain, even for patients dying of cancer. "They would say the pain is unbearable, that they would would do anything to make it stop, and many of them would tell us that they asked their doctors to give them something to put them out of their misery," he said. Recently they have been hearing the same stories form people with pain in the United States.

 

"When they started looking at the issue more closely, we started hearing more and more stories of chronic pain patients who had been on opioids, who were bing told by their physicians that we would have to take you off. And we started hearing stories from patients who were having a lot of trouble finding a physician who's willing to accept them as a patient," said Lohman. He also said they were aware of the supposed addiction and overdose problem in the U.S. but that there has to be a balance between keeping opioids off the street and making sure medications are still available to legitimate patients.

 

There investigation will focus, in large, on the role played by opioid guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in 2016, which discourage doctors from prescribing opioids for chronic pain. These guidelines were only intended for family doctors, but have been adopted as mandatory rules by many government agencies, states, insurers, politicians, and insurers. The impact of these guidelines have had an enormous impact on people with pain.

 

"The CDC clearly knows what is going on and they haven't taken any real action to say, 'That is not appropriate, involuntarily forcing people off their medications.' That's not what we recommended," said Lohman. "When a government puts in palce regulations that make it almost impossible for a physician to prescribe an essential medication, or a pharmacist to stock the medication, or for a patient to fill their prescription, that becomes a human rights issue."

 

Human Rights Watch is looking for stories from chronic pain patients who have been forced or encouraged to stop their opioid medications by physicians and pharmacists. They would also like to hear from patients who have been forced or encouraged to seek alternative forms of treatment, but who then found those treatments financially or geographically inaccessible. Input from doctors also affected by these guidelines, regulations and anti-opioid climate is also welcome.

 

The unfortunate part of this investigation isthey are only looking at information from patients and doctors in West Virginia, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington, North Carolina, Florida and Montana.

 

When The Chronic Pain Association of Canada was in touch with HRW and Mr. Lohman he informed our representaive they had not planned to do anything in Canada either, but would mention, in their report, the problem in this country was also concerning.

 

However we think they should make an effort to include this country in theri report and expand it to Canada through their Toronto office. The problem for people with pain in Canada is just as dire as those in the United States. People are dying, being forced off their medication, being dropped by their doctors and living their lives in agony. That is not right.

 

We are encouraging every chronic pain patient and family members in Canada to contact Human Rights Watch and ask them to include Canada in their present investigations. It is time for everyone to get involved. You cannot wait any longer. Please contact the HRW representaive in Toronto, at canada@hrw.org. Her name is Farida Deif. Also contact the New York office as they have the authority to have the Canadian arm to go ahead. The contact there is Diederik Lohman and his e-mail is lohmand@hrw.org.

We would liketo acknowledge Pat Anson at Pain News Network for his work in this matter.

Barry Ulmer, Executive Director