PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (ABC4 News) – As Utah and the nation fight the opioid epidemic, patients suffering from chronic pain are being forced off of their medications too quickly, according to a local lobbyist.
That “force-tapering” had devastating consequences for a Pleasant Grove family.
Darleen Palmer says her husband Adam was funny, caring and loved his family. But he died by suicide in January after going off of his chronic pain medication. Palmer says Adam suffered a tick-bite a decade ago while roasting marshmallows with his family in American Fork Canyon. She says he contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a bacterial sickness spread by ticks, that resulted in chronic nerve pain that left him in agony.
She says a Fentanyl patch helped quell the pain, but due to insurance and dosage changes stemming from the recent fight against the nationwide opioid epidemic, Adam no longer had regular access to the pain medication he needed.
“It was excruciating for him,” said Palmer. “He didn’t want to suffer anymore.”
On the morning of January 20, Palmer says her husband got up early in the morning and drove to a remote area, where he shot himself. Adam Palmer and his wife have four children together, ranging in age from 19 to 12.
“The night before he left, he gave us all hugs and told us how much he loved us,” said Kelcee Palmer, 19. “I’m glad he’s not in pain anymore, even though we do miss him.”
“I can’t be mad at him,” said Darleen, who knew the pain and suffering her husband was enduring without his medication. She said he left a video message for his children before he passed away.
Is “force-tapering” a problem in Utah?
Cases like the Palmers’ have lobbyist Amy Coombs with Prestige Government Relations concerned.
“We can do better,” Coombs said about the problem in Utah, adding that force-tapering patients off of much-needed pain medications because of fears about the opioid crisis can have unintended negative consequences.
In cases like Adam Palmer’s, patients resort to drastic measures, she says.
“You either choose to not be here anymore because you’re in so much pain, you go out on the street and you find drugs, or you sit and suffer until you figure it out,” said Coombs.
Speaking to a the Utah Health Reform Task Force earlier this month, Coombs outlined ideas to stop force-tapering in Utah. The Centers for Disease Control has admitted that 2016 guidelines on how to manage the opioid epidemic have been “misapplied” by the medical community, and said “abrupt tapering or sudden discontinuation of opioids” is discouraged.
Coombs says because of the negative conversation about certain pain medications, insurance companies are hesitant to cover it and doctors are reluctant to prescribe it, or are weaning patients off of it too abruptly.
Coombs worked with Utah lawmakers on a bill file surrounding this issue that is expected to be debated in the 2020 legislative session.
ABC4 News has chosen not to name the insurance company or medical providers involved in Adam Palmer’s story.
The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255