Chronic pain sufferers struggle to get prescriptions filled in Alaska

Published: Jan. 23, 2019 at 6:44 PM AKST
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For the past 14 years Kim Benner has suffered from a number of medical conditions that cause pain that makes even the most common everyday tasks almost impossible.

"I have tried countless numbers of alternative methods; acupuncture, heat and cold therapies, biofeedback and stimulators and spinal infusions," Benner said. "Nothing has worked so far except for the pain medicine that I unfortunately have to take."

Benner has seen the same doctor for a decade and she says they have worked together to find the right treatment options. The most effective options involve opioids in dosages that Benner says pharmacists are now refusing to fill.

Benner points to a law passed by the state legislature in 2017 that she thinks started her woes. It limits the dosage amount of opioids for treating acute pain. However, patients with cancer, in palliative care or suffer from conditions with chronic pain should still be able to be provided with greater dosages from the doctors. The law also created a database where all controlled substances dispensed are entered into a central database.

"They're trying to prevent new addictions, new overdoses, which I completely understand, but they are leaving out a whole group of people who already suffer that are going to suffer even more," Benner said.

Kim Whitaker, who as a member of the Anchorage Opioid Task Force pushed for the law to be created, says the intent is not to keep people from receiving adequate care.

"The reason why it was important to change what was happening was because of deaths caused by doctors over-prescribing, or people doctor hopping and having more opiates than they need," Whitaker said. "It was never meant to keep people with acute pain from getting medications."

Whitaker acknowledges that some people could be affected by the law, but says it is working to reach its goals.

"Every little thing that we can do to keep more pills out on the streets is going to improve our community, save a life, put a family back intact," Whitaker said.

For Benner, the difficulties filling her prescriptions mean uncertainty about what her day-to-day will entail.

"I'm terrified," Benner said. "I have been without pain meds many years ago and it's terrifying. My body just terrifies me by what it can do."

Channel 2 reached out to local pharmacists to weigh in on the dilemma. Those reached declined interviews or comment.