Portage woman’s family says she died because she couldn’t get her painkillers

Amputee Dawn Anderson talks about opioid pain reliefPortage woman’s family says she died because she couldn’t get her painkillers


Amanda Latronica says her mom died of a “soft suicide.”

She didn’t put a gun to her head and pull the trigger — but the result was the same.

Earlier this year, Dawn Anderson, Latronica’s mother, went into kidney failure. It was another in a string of health problems that had left Anderson, a 53-year-old former nurse from Portage, severely disabled.

She had two amputated legs and was missing an eye, both complications from Type 1 diabetes.

And she was in extreme pain, she said, because of the opioid crisis.

Anderson was the face of a July 2018 Times story about the plight of chronic pain patients who feel they’re the inadvertent victims of that epidemic. Amid a rash of opioid overdose deaths — caused in part by physicians liberally prescribing the drugs — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 issued guidelines recommending that doctors not prescribe large doses of opioids, or prescribe them long term, to patients who weren’t at the end of life or undergoing cancer care.

That, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration going after doctors for overprescribing painkillers, left many physicians fearful of dispensing pain meds.

“The safest thing is to err on the side of safety and be overly strict in prescribing,” said Dr. Shaun Kondamuri, a Munster pain management specialist. “So legitimate pain patients are suffering. They may not get medications. They may not get enough medications.”

He said pain medicine prescribing went from one extreme to another, from doctors handing out painkillers like candy to not giving them to people who actually needed them. Many primary care doctors now refer pain patients to specialists because they don’t want to deal with them.

But last month, the CDC published a report saying that doctors were misinterpreting the guidelines. It clarified that the recommendations did not advocate for abruptly tapering or cutting off patients from pain meds, particularly for people already on high dosages.

The original suggestions said physicians should not increase patients to 90 or more milligrams of morphine, or its equivalent, per day. But many doctors incorrectly thought that meant not having any patients on that high a dose.

That was the case for Anderson. She had been on 90 milligrams of morphine, but her doctor reduced her dosage and gave her a shorter-acting form of the medication. That, she said, left her unable to go up and down stairs, to drive, to garden, to function much at all. She tried pain injections, CBD, kratom — but nothing worked.

She told The Times in July that she was tempted to look for a “Dr. Kevorkian type,” someone who would help put her out of her misery.

She found that, her family said, in the form of not seeking medical treatment that would have kept her alive.

Rushed to the hospital

In early March, Anderson’s husband tried calling her at home, but she didn’t answer. He called police to do a wellness check. They found her on the floor, disoriented.

An ambulance took her to the hospital, where doctors confirmed she was in kidney failure. They said dialysis was an option. She refused it.

A few days later, her condition deteriorating, she chose to go home and die peacefully, her family and hospice by her side.

“If she knew she would have had pain medication and wouldn’t have had to suffer, she absolutely would have agreed to do dialysis,” said Latronica, a 29-year-old truck driver from Diamond, Illinois.

“She said, ‘This is my way out.'”

Anderson had organized and led a local Don’t Punish Pain rally last September in Valparaiso. The national founder of that movement, Claudia Merandi, said that despite the CDC’s clarifications, things are actually getting worse for chronic pain patients. That’s because many doctors are increasingly afraid they’ll get arrested if the DEA decides they’re prescribing too many painkillers.

“The fear of retribution is very real, it’s very great, and it needs to stop,” said Merandi, 50, a former stenographer from East Providence, Rhode Island who is on disability because of Crohn’s disease.

She said the one thing that has changed is that chronic pain patients’ voices are being heard. Also, lawmakers are starting to introduce legislation to protect pain patients, doctors and pharmacists who are legitimating using and prescribing painkillers. But it’s still not enough, she said.

Merandi said people in her movement are killing themselves or opting to die rather than seek medical care on a monthly basis, often veterans.

“They’re too weak to fight. They don’t want to fight. What are they going to fight for?” she said. “They’re going to come back into a life of no medication. What’s the point of living? That was Dawn. Dawn didn’t want to live.”

And even if health care providers go back to prescribing more painkillers for legitimate pain patients, it’s already too late for families like Anderson’s.

“Without a doubt, I know she would still be alive if she had the medication she needed,” Latronica said. “That was the only thing that allowed her to live functionally and manageably. When they took it away, that took away her will to live.

“She had three granddaughters and two daughters and a husband. She wanted to live. She tried. She just couldn’t do it any longer.”

Latronica said that even as her mother struggled during her final months, the fight on behalf of other chronic pain patients sustained her, gave her something to be proud of, gave her life.

“The pain community needs justice. My mom needs justice,” Latronica said. “I don’t want her death to be in vain.”

6 Responses

  1. If there is such a HUGE CRISIS Why do we alllllllllll not hear about all the people who die??????? This is very,very,very WRONG PEOPLE…
    I tend to think that most the people who ask for pain killers are not even in pain so the outgo of this is our elderly suffer till death I agree that their so called oil is a waist of money 30.00 for a little bottle…..REALLY ….RUBBISH WAISTED MONEY IS ALL THAT IS not everyone is the same the doctors just need to get a clue and evaluate their patients if they can’t tell a fake person faking a symptom then they need to go back to college……..LEGALIZE MARIJUANA before we all die…..Ignorance is not a blessing….

  2. If you actually look, the statistics do not support this statement.

    “Amid a rash of opioid overdose deaths — caused in part by physicians liberally prescribing the drugs “

    • Was there ever any question they were running wild from the start? Years ago when this crap came my way THE FIRST THING I said was; “What does this have to do with me? Please separate me from the “opioid crisis”. The PA actually turned red and started to quake with anger.

      Now my heart is atrophied from immobility and I move even less. I left the hospital after the diagnosis early. I said ‘if you are not going to treat my severe pain, what is the point of cutting and sawing on my heart?’

    • Exactly, plus Drs were not handing them out like candy either.

  3. I understand 100 %! It’s so exhausting trying to deal with chronic, painful diseases. But when they start messing with the inly relief you get–it’s torture! Exhausting! Cruel!
    I get asked quite often if I have a plan for suicide. No… it’s just letting go. Not trying to fight for the right to live… no more meds or treatment and I go naturally. What is it that Americans want our healthcare system to be? A way to care for each one of us with empathy and compassion– allowing the decisions for treatment to be made between a person and their physician? Or another big business that looks only at the bottom line and makes the descions for you and your loved ones– with no regard of the suffering and outcomes including physical, psychological and financial. Being chronically ill is an exhausting process and when you should have resources for treatments, medication, healthy food and housing– our current system makes you expend what precious resources of energy you have to jump through hoops to prove you need these things while charging for it all through the most confusing system in the world. We need to fix this now! All of it!

  4. She wanted to live. She knew what could help her live. We knew what could help her live. We’ve used them for years. She used them for years. No one with power wanted to help. No Doctor, No Congressman, No District Attorney, No Governor, No Mayor, No President.

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