Every week, sometimes multiple of times a day… I get emails, FB messages, phone calls from chronic pain pts that are being denied care and their medically necessary medication… sometimes from a prescriber, some from a pharmacy/pharmacist, insurance/PBM.

I am about to take on the task of being CFO for the non profit American Pain & Disability Foundation, so there is going to be one more alligator in my swamp…and I am getting tired/bored with giving out the same/similar advise over and over… hopefully after I finish this post they will read it first and/or if they don’t read it first..  I can just answer their question with referring them to this post first with a hyperlink.


I often get some cryptic message about them being denied their medication – and I am suppose to fill in the blanks and come up with a recommendation.  Often, I am just replying with the same/similar words that I have routinely typed to other pts.

If the pt is going to a chain store… and you have been getting your meds without problem for months or years and all of sudden they are getting stonewalled.. Most likely, there has been a change in the staffing in the Rx dept of that store or they have encountered  a “floating pharmacist” that is working there for a day or week… covering a sick employee, a vacation, a pregnancy leave.  Often these Pharmacists don’t know your prescriber, don’t know you and won’t bother to look at your Rx records at the store…  JUST SAY NO…

They know that the pt calls HQ, they will be told that they stand behind their pharmacist’s decisions – can’t make a pharmacist to fill a Rx… probably get the same answer from the board of pharmacy.  They could ask the Pharmacist to provide the clinical information that they made their decision on… but.. that would create a virtually Tsunami of paperwork.

Another “reason” … “I’m not comfortable”… maybe the pt should ask the pharmacist what clinical information that he/she is not comfortable about ? – IMO “I’m not comfortable” is an EXCUSE not based on few if any FACTS.

Then there is a “we are out of stock”… what the Pharmacist hopes that the pt doesn’t know that the DEA requires that every pharmacy keep a hard copy PERPETUAL INVENTORY… Maybe the pt should document the date/time of being told that the pharmacy is out of stock and send a request to the pharmacy board to ask the pharmacy to provide a copy of the perpetual inventory sheet for the particular medication/strength for the particular day/time…  Does the Board of Pharmacy consider LYING TO PTS UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT ?  If the Board won’t go as far as getting this information – then they apparently don’t.

The pt will probably be told that the Pharmacist has a “corresponding responsibility” which is in the control substance act of 1970…  Just have to make sure that the medication is being prescribed for valid medical reason…  IMO, corresponding responsibility should be a “two way street” … make sure that medication does not get into the hands of someone that really doesn’t have a valid medical necessity and make sure that the medication gets in the hands of someone that does have a valid medical necessity..  But Pharmacists don’t have access to the pt’s medical records – other than the Rxs they have filled at the store and/or pulled a state PDMP report…  Pharmacists don’t have the legal right, nor training, nor physical space,  nor time to do a physical exam…  If they have not called and talked to the prescriber.. the information that the Pharmacist has is fairly limited… so many use the term “corresponding responsibility” to JUST SAY NO. They turn this term into a ONE WAY STREET TO JUST SAY NO !!!

Other than the state of Alaska, I know of no pharmacists that have experienced any bad consequences for JUST SAYING NO !!

Perhaps, a pt – being denied their medication… share this chart with the Pharmacist… this chart shows the comorbidity complication of under/untreated pain and if a pt is intentionally thrown into cold turkey withdrawal those complications will come on very quickly and probably very intensively…  Think hypertensive crisis, stroke, death… how would that affect the pharmacist’s license ?

The quickest path for a pt to get their medication is to find a independent pharmacy … where the pt will be dealing with the Pharmacist/owner who tend to be less judgemental.. here is a website to locate one by zip code


More and more prescribers are no longer in a private practice. Their practice has been sold to large hospital system and they are just an employee of that corporation and what they will/won’t prescribe is more likely being dictated by their corporate employer.

It is best if chronic pain pts are proactive when they are first told that they are going to participate in a involuntary forced reduction in their meds.  IMO… waiting until you are way down the path of reducing their doses… it is probably too late to back things up  Here is a post that I did a few months ago that should give the pt some direction of actions that they may be able to take

Insurance/ PBM problems/denials

Many insurance company will hire a PBM ( Prescription Benefit Manager) to handle the adjudication of Rx claims… they provide you the “drug card”. There are a handful of PBM’s that control the lion’s share of the market place.

If your insurance is thru your employer.. abt 50% of large employers are self insured that is referred to as an ERISA prgm – over seen by the Fed Labor Dept and insurance company is just an administrator to pay out your employer’s money for health claims for their employees and their families.  If you have this sort of “insurance” and you get denied…someone at your employer can just call up the insurance company and tell them to pay for your medications as your prescriber wrote for… after all it is your employer’s money that they are paying out.

If you are on Medicare or Medicaid… then you are probably dealing with a Part D Rx prgm… they have a three level appeal process.. they don’t have to tell you about the process unless you ask and then they have to give you the process in writing- today that is probably a website.  Be sure to meet the time limits of making the appeals… expect to get denied the first time because the same system/people that already denied it … is the one handling the appeal.. because a fair percent of pts getting denied will give up… after three denials there is a Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) again they have to tell you the process is writing… the very fact that you KNOW ABOUT the ALJ appeal level… may be enough to get them to cave… because they know that at least 50% get to this level will get approved.  Doesn’t cost the pt anything, and now a days… it is probably a ZOOM type meeting..  the pt doesn’t need an attorney… just needs to state way they need what was denied … it is a pretty straight forward process.

It is also good if the pt calls 800-MEDICARE or and file a complaint against any provider for denying you care.

Any other kind of health insurance… you just have to ask what their appeal process is and if they don’t offer… ask for the details in writing… the more times you appeal … the more likely the pt will get a YES/APPROVED.






5 Responses

  1. Hello Steve!
    I wanted to drop a comment here and tell you what happened to me last week. On Monday, April 18, 2022 I had a regular follow up with my Pain Management Doctor. I explained to him that I’ve had so many problems with CVS over the past couple years I wanted to change pharmacies and start going to my local independent pharmacy instead. He had no problem at all changing the pharmacy in my medical record and electronically sending my Rx to my local pharmacy. I got a phone call from my local pharmacy late Thursday afternoon April 21, 2022. The pharmacist told me they could not fill my Rx for pain medication. When I asked why, she explained that they could not take any more “Pain Patients” and that I needed to call my pain doctor and have him send my Rx to another pharmacy. When I asked why they couldn’t take any more pain patients, the pharmacist said that they are limited in the amount of pain medication the State of Montana allows them to order and my Rx would put them over their limit. My husband and I both have a history with this local pharmacy and have used them for years to get other medications filled. I couldn’t believe I was being denied because I am a “Pain Patient”. I felt discriminated against! She made it sound like I was getting a truck load of medication, when it was only a one month Rx. Needless to say, I have no choice but to go back to CVS. I don’t want to go back to CVS, but there is no other pharmacy in my area and no out of town pharmacy will fill my Rx without me being a previous customer of theirs. I called my pain doctor Friday morning April 22, 2022 and left a message with the receptionist in reference to what happened. I’m hoping he or his nurse will send my Rx back to CVS before I run out of medication this weekend. I’m thinking about writing a letter to the Montana AG and Governor. I don’t think either can or will do anything about this, but it would be nice to give them a piece of my mind… nicely and respectfully though.
    Hope you have a great week Steve! I love your blog.

    • If MT has the same AG… the last I heard… he would be happy if MT was a opiate desert… several years ago, the DEA started making wholesaler ration controlled meds to pharmacies … I have heard that some pharmacists keeps on hand enough controls to take care of their regular pts and others fill control Rxs on a first come first serve… when they run out…no more pts get controlled meds for the balance of the ration period. My understanding of the interstate commerce law it is illegal to ration products, but I guess if the entity that is controlling the DEA license of the wholesaler is part of the DOJ… who is going to enforce that law ? Maybe the CVS stores has turned away so many controlled Rxs and the independent has picked up so many pts … that they are bumping up against their “monthly allotment ” with their wholesaler. I just made this post tonight It sounds like to me that between the state of MT… the DOJ… and the indifference by the CVS Pharmacist(s) with you getting your necessary medication… all told.. they have painted you into a corner… I would reach out to your insurance – you or someone – is paying them monthly premiums to provide you with your medications… your health insurance policy is basically a CONTRACT… call them up and tell them you want them to fulfill the terms of your insurance contact.. generally speaking taking money for a product/service under a contract and failing to do so is consider FRAUD.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for another great article. I’ve commented on this site before and stated that I only go to an independent pharmacy after being given so much garbage from CVS. I have spent hours post-doctor appointment looking for a CVS that has “enough” supply to fill my prescriptions. I have bounced from one CVS to another and another and another. On more than one occasion, I felt it was a concerted effort to get me to NOT get my meds filled at CVS.

    The final straw was the umpteenth time a pharmacist lectured me on the level of pain meds I was on, once noting to me, “This stuff is worse than heroin. Do you want to be a heroin addict?”

    A pharmacist lecturing me on dependency on pain medication loud enough for others to hear and the packing up of my pain management doctor due to the archaic and wrong-headed laws in New York led me to find my independent pharmacist – quite by accident – and they have been a joy to work with. Not one lecture and they are never out of the supply of my medications.

    To avoid the nonsense of the insurance company, I pay for my pain meds out of pocket and my other meds through insurance. I couldn’t handle the calls of, “Do you really need this much?” every. single. month from my insurer. That conversation is between me and my doctor. Unfortunately doctors are not immune from the harassment.

    Last summer I was hospitalized for a week with a fractured pelvis. My medication was at home and I was under the care of the doctors at the hospital. I wound up with one week extra of pain meds plus the usual “extra” that I have because I usually see my doctor and am prescribed before 30 days are up. However, I have lost pills, destroyed pills by spills, and had reasons to actually need the extra.

    Because of the pain I was in and the fact that I had extra meds, I would go sometimes 2 or 3 days without picking up my meds. I had no idea that NY State tracked this. After a few months of this, they came down on my doctor. She was over-prescribing if I didn’t have a need to pick them up when they were prescribed. She lowered my dosage in response to their letter so she didn’t lose her license.

    There was NOTHING I could do. Not only did I get lowered after a pelvic fracture that I am still dealing with on top of a back fracture and Lupus, but the practice decided that the level of medication I was on was too much and they won’t prescribe at that level for anyone anymore EVER. So even if I have another injury, I will never be raised back up. All because of this letter.

    I am so done with all of this. Going to another state won’t help much. I’ve done everything they told me to do, including trying medical marijuana for a year – I hated it – it made me loopy. My pain meds simply allows me to function. There is no “high” or any enjoyment from taking pain meds other than they allow me to function. Without pain meds, I would have no quality of life. At all. WITH pain meds, I have a very good quality of life and am extraordinarily active. Without them, I can barely move.

    I am an attorney and a therapist. If I can help with anything, please let me know. I have worked many a class action at the most reknown law firms in the world. Steve, if at any time you need help with legal matters or mental health matters or an article written or research done, please let me know. I can help out as an attorney, a former psychiatric clinician and a current therapist.

    I got tired of being treated like some kind of pariah because I’m in pain. It’s not okay and it was sanctioned at CVS where pharmacists berate you in front of other patients. Leave the big chains and go to the small independents. It’s the only way to go.

    Thank you for listening. Susan Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
    Licensed to practice law in New York and Texas
    Practicing therapist in all 50 states, Canada and the UK

  3. On Twitter, a well known health law attorney named Erin Gilmer just killed herself due to untreated pain. Maybe one or two doctors on twitter have said anything about it. How much longer can we go on doing this to people?

    • The money provided to some in the DOJ/AG and spread out to their friends in media and to PROP and the CDC, …is far to great a lure for these to resist.

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