By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s been a dramatic drop in opioid prescriptions and the number of pain pills Minnesota patients receive. In three years, opioid prescriptions in public health-care programs dropped by one-third, and prescriptions that exceed new dosage guidelines have been cut in half.

State officials think the numbers are trending in the right direction, but some believe the guidelines have gone too far.

Chronic pain advocates believe changes in prescribing practices have negatively affected thousands of Minnesotans. As doctors feel pressure to cut back on prescriptions. The state says these numbers only highlight a success story, in a hard fight.

For 15 years, Amber Bullington was prescribed pain medication to manage her fibromyalgia and arthritis. Until, more than a year ago when her doctor said he needed to stop.

“I did everything I was supposed to do and my doctor cut me off,” Amber Bullington said.

“What’s happening is people are just suffering,” she said.

Bullington now advocates for other Minnesotans in the same position. Pushing back against what she calls the punishment of chronic pain patients.

“Now that the government, DEA is going after doctors, doctors have rightly so said I need to protect my livelihood,” Bullington said.

At the Department of Human Services, Tom Moss believes the state’s report cards for prescribers serving one million patients have helped to identify patterns with some doctors prescribing too many opioids and too often.

“We have never discouraged doctors from using opioids at all. We know they’re an important part of care protocols,” Moss said.

“Their learning what their own prescribing habits are and obviously changing their behavior,” he added.

The state is only collecting data at this point. It will be another year before DHS will identify outliers to potentially change their prescribing habits. Moss says the agency is looking at modifications to make sure doctors receive the right message.

“We want to make sure there are no unintended consequences,” he added.

Like for Elena Richardson who on Facebook said after joint replacement surgery she struggled to get a prescription refill. Going from place to place in her wheelchair and casts. Questioning if a crackdown is really a win for everyone.

“Are you proud that there are people who legitimately need that pain medication and aren’t getting it?” Bullington said.

Bullington says fewer than five percent of chronic-pain patients become addicted to prescription opioids. Some of these patients are a part of the opioid prescribing work group with DHS, so they are a part of this conversation moving forward hoping to find some middle ground.

The Centers for Disease Control plans to update its opioid prescribing guidelines. Changes a few years ago have been blamed for patient suffering and suicide. New guidelines will include treating short-term acute pain and tapering patients safely off these powerful drugs.

Liz Collin

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