Opioid Refugees Struggle to Find Help

  • Recently, a man called with a sound of desperation in his voice. He was very concerned about his 72 year old wife that was just told that her doctor will be leaving the country. This doctor had been prescribing opioids to her for years in order to treat a painful condition. The amount of opioids was staggering: 1200 per month of 30mg Oxycodone and 360 per month of 80mg OxyContin. A 72 year old woman with only Medicare and Medicaid insurance taking this large amount of opioid medications was going to have a very difficult time finding a doctor to help her.


    Other people like this woman find themselves dependent to prescription opioid medications and suddenly left without a doctor to continue treatment. These displaced people are “opioid refugees”.  Phone call after phone call ends with a disappointing answer that refuses help. Like refugees, they are exiled to wander in a scary land of “chemically dependent without professional help”.

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    How does this unfortunate scenario happen? Doctors are free to pull up their tent stakes and leave town. Patients can relocate as well. When insurance policies change, a person may be forced to choose another doctor. Another way people are left chemically dependent without professional help is when doctor refuses to continue an opioid prescription once policies or contracts are broken. These are all possible ways that a person can become an opioid refugee.


    Once stuck in this no man’s land, what can a person do to get help? The first place to start is with the prescribing doctor. Ask for a referral to another recommended provider, ask for records to be copied, and, if appropriate, ask for continuation of opioid treatment until another doctor can be found. Once the current prescribing doctor option is exhausted, the next doctor to turn to is a primary care provider assuming that he/she is not the prescribing doctor for the opioids but still is part of the healthcare team. If the team is not helping, turn to the network. Most insurance companies have a network of providers. Someone in that network may be willing and able to help. Contact the insurance company to find doctors in the network. Last, because opioid chemical dependency can lead to opioid withdrawal symptoms if the medications are suddenly discontinued, a doctor that specializes in withdrawal management might be able to help. One place to find opioid dependency specialists is at http://turntohelp.com. Keep knocking on doors, eventually one will open.


    Because no one wants to be stuck in the position of being left in the cold without a prescription, there are certain steps that can help prevent one from becoming an opioid refugee. If the doctor is moving or a patient is moving, one needs to start looking for another doctor right away. Hopefully, plenty of notice has been given and there is time to land in someone else’s care. If a change of insurance is anticipated, one should get a list of providers in that network as soon as possible and start calling. Finding a new physician is growing increasingly difficult especially if one is opioid dependent, the sooner the search is started the better.


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    Given enough time and effort, an opioid refugee can find help.  If you are struggling to find help, ask a question below here because maybe someone will have a solution for you.

Published On: October 25, 2014