Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What's Wrong with Health Care: What It Took to Get My Painkiller Presciption Filled

Pretty please, just fill my prescription...    
Last time, I wrote about my troubles getting my prescription for morphine filled at my regular pharmacy: What's Wrong with Healthcare: Getting a Pain Pill Prescription Filled.  Today I'm back with an update.

They Just Said No

Remember how I couldn't get my morphine prescription filled at my regular pharmacy for over 3 months?  When last I wrote, I had just called another location of my old pharmacy, which was CVS by the way, and they told me they had my pain medication in stock.  I was cautiously optimistic that I was finally getting my medication.  

Well, I went there the next evening and guess what?  They DIDN'T have it!

Fed up, tired and frustrated, I took my prescription to a different chain pharmacy the next day and my prescription filling experience was completely different.

Filling a Painkiller Prescription, Redux

As I walked up to the prescription drop-off counter at this other chain pharmacy, the first thing I noticed was a sign explaining that some narcotic painkiller prescriptions could not be filled the same day because the medications would need to be ordered. 'Fair enough,' I said to myself.

I presented my prescription at the drop-off counter. The staff checked and they didn't have the medication in stock. So they 1) kept my prescription and 2) told me they would order the pain medicine for me. I was informed that the medicine should come in on Wednesday and 3) they would text me (my preference) when my prescription was ready for pick-up.

Since I hadn't used this pharmacy in quite a while, I needed to present my insurance card and my photo ID. "No problem," I told the pharmacy tech. As I waited for my information to be verified in their system, I could see the pharmacist completing the paperwork necessary to order my medication.

Wednesday afternoon rolled around. I hadn't gotten a call, so I decided to call them. I was told it was going to take one more day to get my prescription filled. Annoying, but I could wait one more day.

Sure enough, the next day, I got a text message letting me know my prescription was ready for pick up.

Bye-Bye CVS, Hello Better Customer Service

Despite the wait, this was a huge improvement over how I was being treated at CVS. Interacting with the staff at CVS left me feeling frustrated and like some kind of undeserving, second-class patient. This other pharmacy made me feel welcomed, important and worthy of their time and attention.

So I decided enough is enough, and transfered all my active prescriptions from CVS to this other chain.

On the day my new pharmacy called to get my prescriptions transfered, a pharmacist from CVS called and asked me to call them back. 'Too little, too late,' I thought and I didn't bother calling them.  I also didn't return their call when their corporate customer service department called me a few weeks later in response to the complaint I filed on their website.

The bottom line:  I'm done dealing with CVS, especially when I can get better customer service somewhere else.

The Curious Case of Painkillers "Lost" at CVS

By the way, I did some research and I think I know why CVS wasn't filling my prescription.

It seems there is a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and California Board of Pharmacy probe into the "alleged loss of painkillers" at four CVS stores in Northern California. According to the L.A. Times, over 37,000 oxycodone hydrocodone combination drug pills, mostly generic Vicodin, went missing from these stores in 2013.  The article also states that earlier this year, CVS corporate told their Southern California stores to get their records in order because they were coming to audit them.

Now my prescription wasn't for oxycodone a hydrocodone combination drug (like Vicodin or Tylenol with codeine), it was for morphine. The key difference between these medications is that morphine is a Schedule II drug and therefore is locked up in a safe, whereas oxycodone hydrocodone combination drugs aren't, which makes it easier for the pharmacy staff to swipe it off the shelf if they are so inclined.

But clearly, all these problems with painkillers at CVS stores seems to have made them less inclined to fill patients' prescriptions for any kind of narcotic pain medication, which doesn't seem like good customer service or professional business practice to me.  Why should I be denied my pain medication because some CVS pharmacy staff members can't be trusted to handle these medications?

And About CVS's "Painkiller Rules"

I also decided to call my local office of the DEA, because I was told by several different people at CVS, both in the pharmacy and on the telephone with someone in their corporate customer service department, that:

1) The DEA won't allow CVS to answer telephone inquiries about whether they have certain pain medications in stock. (This also applies to CVS stores calling each other on behalf of a patient to see if another store does have the medication in stock.)
2) The DEA won't allow CVS to call me when they have my pain medicine in stock.
3) The DEA won't let CVS hold my prescription while they order the medication for me. (I was told that I needed to go into the pharmacy in-person with my prescription in hand in order to find out if they have my medication in stock.)

Well, guess what? The officer I spoke with at the DEA said that their agency doesn't have any regulations like these for pharmacies.

So what's the real truth here?

I was once told by a pharmacy staff member that the reason CVS doesn't answer telephone inquires about whether they have narcotic pain medications in stock is because they are worried about being robbed. How ironic is it then that the "robbers" they need to worry about are their own employees, not some thugs off the street?!?

I Think Patients In Pain Deserve Better Treatment

What more can I say? A person (like me!) with a prescription for a narcotic pain medication in their hand deserves the same exact customer service experience as someone with a prescription for any other medication behind the pharmacy counter. Yes, I am aware that the rules for dispensing painkillers are different. But as long as it is legal to prescribe them and legal to dispense them, patients living with pain deserve to get their prescriptions for pain medications filled without all the extra judgments, hassles and hoops to jump through courtesy of the pharmacy staff.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

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pete theisen said...

Hey Selena, fyi oxycodone is also schedule II and is locked up in the safe. Also it is againts federal regulations to fill a schedule II narcotice for more than 90 days supply and in most states it is restricted to a 30 day supply.

Laura Morris said...

Hi Selena, This absolutely enrages me!! I have been taking pain meds for a very long time, and gone through all sorts of crazy "jumping through hoops" type stuff, because of nervous pharmacists. Because of this, I have always had to stay on top of my game and make sure I had a little extra so that I never went without, because of all these shenanigans!!

I feel so bad for you, that you had to go through this, and to think that you are probably one of MANY #Spoonies like us, who is in serious pain, needing your meds, and at the mercy of a system that's run ammock. I have sometimes wondered if I could band together with some people and start an advocacy group to stop CVS Pharmacy and others from doing this. I realize there are addicts out there, lying, cheating and robbing the stores for oxycodone, lortab, vicodin, and percoset mainly. I think they steal the stuff to make Meth too.

There are many wonderful pain doctors online who are up on the laws, however, they vary from State to state. It's complicated, and very energy draining as you indeed found out!! Thank you for telling your story and keeping us informed. I'm glad you got your prescriptions to a better place! Laura Morris

jenn said...

I had the same problem you did a few years back at CVS and Duane Reade. Damn near verbatim. It was pure hell. At the time I was on 15mg of Oxycontin and for months I would go thru all of this ridiculousness with a pharmacy I had been using my entire life. Because it was an uncommon dosage they wouldn't keep it in stock. I told them that I would be on it monthly and asked if they could order it knowing that and they refused. I would have to go to different stores to try and find one that had the right dosage, causing me to miss days. I complained and tried everything I could think of and no one would cooperate with me.

Finally my doctor adjusted my dosage so that I could get it filled. I also then switched to a "mom-and-pop" pharmacy. They may be 20 minutes out of the way, but they always carry what I need and when they're out they figure out a way to get me the prescription the next day.

The pharmacies treated me worse than the garbage stuck on the bottom of their shoes. They made me feel like some sort of criminal and made my life a living hell. I suffer from really bad chronic pain and fatigue; I, like many, struggle as it is, nevermind adding all this grief on top of it. They're supposedly in the business of helping and healing those who are sick, but they could care less. Its an absolute disgrace!

cheryl obrien said...

I switched years ago from CVS OR Any chain pharmacies because if your same issues. I know have found a "mom and pop" pharmacy who treats me great and realizes every month I need my pain medicine or I can't function. I don't understand why it would take 7 days to get an order of medicine In chain pharmacy and my little old one can get in later that day or the next morning. Something just isn't right.

Sharon said...

I have been on hydrocodone for years and without it couldn't function. Why are we made to feel we are criminals. I live in NM which is very strict. My new doctor will not increase my dose which I thankfully seem to be stable in. But I find it hard to travel because visiting out of state pharmacies for refills can be challenging. I contacted Hep c in 1980, postpartum hemorrhage and transfusion. Now disabled for fibromyalgia. I used to practice medicine, now the fatigue and pain gets worse each year. Will try treatment this summer if my insurance approves. Sad that fibro sx may not resolve. This all sucks. I turn 60 in August. Too young to feel this old. Thank you for supporting all of us out here in the trenches.