Sickle Cell sufferer fears fight against opioid crisis could leave more patients suffering

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — President Donald Trump has called the opioid epidemic a national health crisis. As the government tries to curb the numbers of pills and drugs out there, sickle cell patients are afraid they could be left to suffer in pain.

George Carter, an administrator of Sickle Cell Chapters of Virginia and a sickle cell sufferer himself, told 8News Anchor Morgan Dean the only thing that can take away the pain is powerful pain killers.

“That pain can be excruciating,” Carter said. “Three times in my life, that pain was so great, I prayed to God to let me die because I didn’t think I could stand it anymore.”

Those pain relievers are now in the governments crosshairs in the war on drugs.

CVS announced this fall that it will only fill opioid prescriptions for seven days and insurer Cigna announced it won’t cover oxycontin in the future, but only generics of the drug.

“This sets a tone that other insurers may step up and say we’re not going to insure them at all,” Carter said. “Some doctors I know have stopped writing scripts for opioids, rather than to go through the process it entails because they are literally afraid of losing their medical licenses.”

Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder where normal blood cells become flattened or quarter moon shaped and can’t pass through blood vessels, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to the body.

CDC guidelines call for lower dosages of painkillers than sickle cell sufferers may need during a crisis. The guidelines do mention sickle cell disease as an exception, but it’s buried in the documents and it references another report that’s 41 pages long.

That’s why Carter’s written a letter on behalf of the Sickle Cell Chapters of Virginia, to national and state officials, medical board leaders and government agencies urging them to protect patients. He’s urging the CDC to come up with explicit exemptions for patients who suffer from the disease.

But Carter fears some could fall through the cracks during the opioid crackdown.

“How much suffering are we going to have to go through?” Carter asks. “Are we going to get enough medication?”

There are just 4,000 sickle cell patients in Virginia and just 100,000 nationwide. Carter says the disease isn’t talked about as much as others and that’s why he’s so concerned.


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