A statewide study found that family members of patients dying in Oregon hospitals reported a sharp increase in the level of pain suffered by their loved ones during November and December 1997.

The study's lead investigator, Susan Tolle, an expert in end-of-life care at Oregon Health Sciences University, told the Associated Press, "What made it happen? Is it still happening? We don't know." Tolle suggested it could have been heightened expectations about pain control from the publicity surrounding the political campaign over assisted suicide, nurses or pharmacists concerned about providing parge doses of pain medication and possibly hastening death, or doctors' fears from a threat by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to punish doctors who aid in suicide. The DEA's threat was leveled a week after Oregon voters voted to keep a state law permitting physician-assisted suicide in early November.

Skip Baker, President of the American Society for Action on Pain (http://www.actiononpain.org), told the Week Online that he believes the DEA is at the root of the problem: "I would say that it's the DEA that has doctors terrified of providing pain medication, not only to the dying, but to patients living with long-term chronic pain. I get letters almost daily from patients who are contemplating suicide because they can't get adequate pain medication from their doctors, and in many of the cases their say it's their fear of the DEA that keeps them from providing their medicine."

Ann Jackson, head of the Oregon Hospice Association, also believes there is a connection between the DEA threat and the increase of reported pain, telling the Associated Press, "I think that it's very likely that there's a connection here."

(Last July, DRCNet forwarded an alert on a federal bill that pstensibly was to allow the DEA to revoke the controlled substances licenses of physicians who prescribe controlled substances for assisted suicide. In actuality the bill would have set unrealistic limits on pain prescription quantities, the exceeding of which would trigger DEA scrutiny. A wide array of medical organizations opposed the bill, and their efforts under the umbrella group, Coalition for Effective Pain Management, succeeded in educating enough Senators and Representatives on the issue to prevent the bill's passage this year. Another fight is anticipated next year, and DRCNet plans to let our readers know how they can help get the DEA out of our doctors' offices. We also hope to provide a report on the Coalition's efforts next week.)

-- END --
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Issue #63, 10/16/98 Why DRCNet? | Federal Judge Orders Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club Shut Down -- City to Consider Providing Marijuana to Patients | Oregon Poll: Reform Positions Hold Lead | Pain Went Up Sharply Among Oregon's Dying in Late 1997 | Swiss Okay Controlled Heroin Distribution | Oklahoma Police Chief Threatens Harassment of Man Who Opposes the Drug War | Marijuana Ranks Fourth Largest Cash Crop in America Despite Prohibition | Social Concern a Sign of Teen Drug Use? Ask Orrin Hatch | Car Seizure Law Upheld in Oakland | "Driving While Black" Lawsuit Grows | Web News | Editorial: Putting People Before Ideology
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