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Patients still struggle to get pain meds after losing doctor

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 4:56 PM EST
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TOWN OF COLTON, New York (WWNY) - Patients are still trying to get pain medication after a key doctor departed Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center.

Donna Milefski’s primary physician would only prescribe opiate pain pills after three weeks of wrangling. Now, they’re almost out again.

“When this bottle is out, I’m only hoping and praying that my primary will come through for me,” she said.

Milefski is a former patient of Dr. Juan-Diego Harris at Claxton-Hepburn. When he left there in November, his patients were given a 30-day supply of pills and told to seek other care.

That other care has been almost impossible to find for some - and for a reason.

“There is a limited number of doctors that are willing to do the pain management. And when you do find those doctors, sometimes they are not willing to prescribe the opiates just because of the opiate crisis,” said Kelly Wright, Anchor Recovery Center director.

Milefski has a paralyzed hip, degenerative discs, and severe joint pain. Her pain pills allow her to still do simple household tasks.

“To me it was just unjust, immoral and against their oath. They had nothing lined up,” she said.

7 News did a report on this same topic last week, which attracted more than 100 comments on Facebook – many from former patients of Dr. Harris and others of a physician who left Canton-Potsdam Hospital at about the same time.

Dr. Harris told 7 News he misses his patients. He referred any questions on his departure from Claxton-Hepburn to the hospital. He said he understands that many doctors are afraid of prescribing pain medications. He emphasized that it takes special training to do so properly.

Claxton-Hepburn gave patients a list of doctors they could contact. When 7 News asked if the hospital is doing anything else to continue patient prescriptions, it gave this answer: “Physicians must exercise independent professional medical judgment in determining the types and amounts of controlled substances that are appropriate to be prescribed to a patient.”

John Beyette is also a former patient of Dr. Harris. He says he’s now flat out of his two main painkillers. He’s going through withdrawal. That kind of situation has led to fears in the treatment community some patients might turn to street drugs.

“They are, they’re sick, going through withdrawal. And they just want something that can help ease that withdrawal and ease the pain,” said Wright

Claxton-Hepburn said anyone suffering from withdrawal symptoms should seek immediate care from their primary care provider or the closest available emergency department.

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