My 94-Year Old Mother is Not a Drug Addict. But She's Being Treated Like One.

I've been writing about the barbaric war against pain patients since 2013. Despite the hundreds of desperate emails I've received, and the stories I've read, it has never entirely hit home. Until now. My very elderly mom is being put through the wringer, in order to get some tramadol for back pain. If this doesn't demonstrate the colossal stupidity of our drug laws, nothing does.

I've written more than 75 articles about the travesty that is now our drug "policy." Many of them can be found on the ACSH site, while the others have been published as op-eds in a number of newspapers and magazines. I've spent about equal time picking apart the false narrative and faulty data which continues to be promoted by anti-opioid zealots like Dr. Andrew Kolodny. The rest of the time I write about the needless suffering of millions of pain patients who are denied the drugs they desperately need in the name of controlling addiction – a fool's mission if ever there were one. 

But now it's personal.

My mother will be 94 in a few months and her back is experiencing every one of those 94 years. It hurts. So, in addition to suffering the various indignities (like being unable to walk and 24/7 care) that are part of having lived so long, she just ran into another one thanks to self-anointed "experts" like the Kolodny Klan. My mother is being treated as a drug abuser. 

Her spine is a mess and back pain is sometimes severe, for which she has been taking Tylenol – a drug that is thoroughly useless for back pain (see Tylenol Isn't So Safe, But At Least It Works, Right?). Not surprisingly, the drug isn't doing a damn thing.

So I called her doctor to discuss some alternatives that might make her feel better. One of them was Ultram (tramadol). It is a very weak opioid; so weak that it's not clear that it even belongs in the class, but it's a pretty good pain medicine for those who can take it (2). To emphasize the difference between tramadol and oxycodone one needs only to look at the DEA schedule for the two drugs. Oxycodone (Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are schedule II – the most restricted class of legal drugs in the US. But tramadol is a schedule IV drug, a class that includes fenfluramine and phentermine (both diet drugs), Lemborexant (a mild sleep aid), as well as Ambien and many benzodiazepines (Valium, etc). Quite a difference.

He told me that he can only write a script for five days because he's not a pain management specialist. If he writes for more he will be put on a list he doesn't want to be on. I don't blame him. But I do blame New York State.

Seriously? Can you not tell the difference between doctors running pill mills and a GP who might want to give my 94-year old mother more than five f###ing days worth of a weak narcotic?

My drug addict mother.

But he did have a suggestion: find a pain treatment specialist. This means getting her and her wheelchair into a handicap-accessible taxi for a ? mile ride, then getting her into the office to spend two minutes with the doctor, and then do the whole thing in reverse. To get a stinking bottle of tramadol. 

I've written many times that I'm not fighting this ridiculous battle solely for millions of pain patients but because my family or friends could end up in just this kind of situation through no fault of their own. Bingo.

I wish I was as good at picking stocks as predicting what was heading at pain patients years ago. I could make some serious money. Maybe not as much as the $725 per hour that Dr. Kolodny was paid (1) to spew his ignorant BS to a court in Oklahoma which was trying to extort collect $572 million from Johnson and Johnson for fueling the crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people in the state

Nice work if you can get it. Hey Andy, be careful toting all that money around. You never know when you might hurt your back.

Damn! Where did my manners go? I forgot to thank you for sparing my mother from a life of addiction and despair.

My bad.


(1) During the trial Kolodny stated that he would be paid more than $500,000. Maybe he can put a down payment on a personality. 

(2) Tramadol is a strange drug. Some people have no trouble with it and some can't take it. It also is notorious for promoting drug-drug interactions, which may or may not be clinically significant.