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Yolanda McCall

Sickle cell patients feel the effects of the opioid crackdown


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (CIRCA) - As a child, running or jumping would usually land Yolanda McCall in the hospital because she suffers from sickle cell, a painful, hereditary disease she says she has had to learn to live with.

“I hurt. I’m not a junkie. I’m not a drug addict, but I need that medicine when I hurt because that’s my only relief," said McCall.

Millions of people around the world suffer from sickle cell disease (SCD), but in the United States, some SCD patients say the opioid epidemic and the health care industry’s crackdown on pain medication has restricted their access to pain relief.

“They don’t take our pain seriously enough when we enter into those emergency room for help," McCall said. “These people see us on a regular basis going in and out of there and know our story and still look at us like we’re coming in there to get high. I don’t need to get high off my medication. I need help.”

McCall said the opioid crisis has caused doctors to lower her pain medication dosage to an amount that does not relieve her pain.

The rate of high dosage opioid prescriptions in the United States decreased by almost 47 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“A normal blood cell is round, and a sickle is a crescent, like a moon. And, you know, you imagine your blood flowing and you have this crescent that's poking you, and giving you a limited access of oxygen. It causes so many different problems," said president of the Southeast Alabama Sickle Cell Association James Arrington.

Arrington said a lot of his clients have a difficult time getting their needed medication, including Cashemia Sanford's two children.

“It’s not easy for me as a mother to watch them be in so much pain and agony and needing medication, needing a doctors attention," Sanford said.

Sanford said it has become increasingly more difficult to get her children's prescriptions filled.

“It used to, I could call the doctor and be like, 'Hey, Lauren or Heather need pain medication,' and they’ll go ahead and send it to the pharmacy, but now it’s not so simple,” Sanford said.

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But not everyone is having the same trouble.

“It’s hard because it’s my job to protect my child, and when he’s going through the crisis you can’t do anything. You can’t take that pain away," said Johnnie Cannon, the mother of a child with sickle cell.

She said her son has a milder form of SCD, but they have never had an issue getting prescribed the necessary medication.

“They give it to us, they send it home with us and we haven’t needed anymore," Cannon said.

But Cannon said she understands why others with SCD might be having a hard time.

“A lot of the patients are having trouble in getting medicine because the doctors are calling them druggies and pill pushers, but you’re in pain you want the meds and that’s the only thing that will make you feel better, but I’m thinking a lot of people just don’t understand it," Cannon said.

And a lack of understanding seems to be the consensus in the sickle cell community.

“You cannot fully understand what someone is going through until you have the opportunity to sit down and talk with them and evaluate them. There's a misnomer about most of the clients. A lot of doctors feel as if they are seeking drugs, or if they are just trying to have a good time, when they are trying to just be normal," Arrington said.

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