By RYAN DUNN
Jerry Williamson describes his foot pain with a surgeon’s precision.
Throbbing from his debilitating gout feels as if rusty nails are piercing his foot. The pain stings like a thousand bees attacking at once, he said.
“Many a night, I have literally cried tears from the pain,” he said.
Williamson, a retired Findlay police officer, suffers his pain during a time of political efforts to cut painkiller abuse nationwide. The Ohio Department of Health reported 697 prescription drug deaths in 2012, the most recent year statistics were available.
That extra publicity and scrutiny, Williamson said, frightens some physicians from writing prescriptions to patients with legitimate need for painkillers.
Williamson, 70, said at his age, he does not worry about developing a painkiller addiction. He just wants to control the pain.
Gout is an excruciating type of arthritis with no known cure, according to the Cleveland Clinic. For Williamson, the pain intensified last summer and continued after an October surgery.
His prescription allows for two Percocet pills every eight hours, Williamson said. But the pain often calls for double that dosage, quickly depleting his supply, he said.
“Two every eight hours just ain’t hacking it,” he said.
But obtaining anything stronger is difficult, Williamson said. Instead, he’s prescribed a mix of drugs in an attempt to control the disease, he said.
“I’m treated the same as a drug seeker,” he said of his efforts to numb the pain.
He retired as a Findlay police officer in 1992 after 26 years with the department, he said.
Williamson knows some people abuse painkillers, and he is aware of “frequent fliers” who visit hospital emergency rooms to obtain the drugs.
Doctors now face closer state oversight and new guidelines when prescribing opioids, said John Stanovich, assistant dean of pharmacy at the University of Findlay. One key rule requires consulting a database of a patient’s prescription history.
As a result, those in pain may have trouble finding physicians willing to prescribe painkillers, Stanovich said.
“You’re going to be on somebody’s radar screen,” Stanovich said, referring to the physicians.
State inspectors now want additional documentation, even if a physician has prescribed properly, he said.
Treating patients who have suffered years of chronic pain often requires increasing amounts of painkillers to work against an increased tolerance, Stanovich said.
The problem is more serious for patients lacking a clear diagnosis. Reluctant family physicians will likely refer patients to an expert, which takes additional time, Stanovich said.
The recent legal shift comes after years of wide use of opioid prescriptions to treat pain, Stanovich said.
Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of specific physician training regarding the use of painkillers. Most physicians’ education on painkiller decisions comes from mentorships with older physicians, Stanovich said. What to prescribe can be subjective, he said.
“That’s the way it’s worked forever,” Stanovich said.
Stanovich said the new safeguards are necessary because of a small number of unscrupulous physicians, including those operating “pill mills” in southern Ohio.
State Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, is helping lead the statewide fight against prescription abuse. He said the law offers a “safe harbor” for doctors prescribing necessary medication.
The political efforts aim to restrict excess prescriptions, Sprague said. These additional guidelines are reasonable considering the serious threats, he said.
Williamson said he does not blame physicians or politicians for their good intentions. But the ongoing legal attention could harm innocent patients, he said.
“Desperate people do desperate things,” Williamson said. “When you’re in so much pain, you’ll do anything.”