AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Nancy Watkins made an impassioned plea to DHHS on behalf of her daughter, whom she says has been struggling with degenerative disc disease and debilitating back pain for 18 years. It’s pain that Watkins says, prescription opioids were making more manageable for her daughter, but ever since she's had to taper down her dose to meet the state's new daily cap, the pains increasing.
“people are broken down by pain and just the constant exhaustion having to deal with this live with this,” Watkins said.
The new rules cap the daily amount of opioid pain medication people can take to 100 morphine milligram equivalents or MME's. That was something a handful of people testifying at a hearing before DHHS regulators on Thursday morning at the Augusta Armory said is not enough.
“I was working for five days a week now I'm down to one day,” explained Anthony Bruno
Bruno, also says he has degenerative disc disease and can't be on his feet at his bartending job for as many days because he's had to taper down his opioid prescription. He's worried about his future.
“In my opinion doctors are supposed to help and they are not helping us people like me right now and that's a shame,” he said.
Jeff and Trudy Bacon made the drive down from Hampden. Jeff also says he has degenerative disc disease which he could manage with opioid pain medication well enough to work 12 hour days at his Napa Auto Parts store. He says the pain is so bad now he can only work half that many hours. And he says he's sold his business and is now working about 6 hours a day for his son.
“It's quite a struggle just getting by the day it's a struggle I used to work a lot and I just can't can't get through the day you know,” Bacon said.
“We're not asking for opiate pain medication we would ask that he be comfortable it's a right everybody deserves. Why is it being taken away from the people that do not abuse the opiates. They are using it to be able to function,” chimed in his wife, Trudy Bacon.
There are exceptions to the daily cap for people in hospice or palliative care. None of the people testifying today however believe they fit into those categories. Jeff Bacon shared with us a note from his doctor informing him that he needed to start weaning down his dosage.
DHHS officials say they can’t speak to individual circumstances, but noted that the definition of palliative care is quite broad and the daily dose exemptions in the rules could certainly inlclude someone with degenerative disc disease.
Under Maine Statute "Palliative care" means patient-centered and family-focused medical care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering caused by a medical illness or a physical injury or condition that substantially affects a patient's quality of life, including, but not limited to, addressing physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs; facilitating patient autonomy and choice of care; providing access to information; discussing the patient's goals for treatment and treatment options, including, when appropriate, hospice care; and managing pain and symptoms comprehensively.
These new rules went into effect on January first as emergency rules that were put into effect to meet the requirements of a law passed by the legislature to prevent opiate abuse. People will have 10 more days to submit written comments. DHHS is hoping to have final rules out by the end of March.