Dr. Lynn Webster of Utah recently produced a documentary about pain treatment. The documentary, “The Painful Truth,” can be found online and on public television stations across the country and provides insight into the difficulties patients run into when trying to find effective treatment for chronic pain.
The patients featured in “The Painful Truth” include some who are fearful of losing access to opioid treatment, as well as those who say some doctors have refused to treat them and pharmacies have balked at filling their prescriptions. The apprehension among some pain patients that they won’t be able to get opioids has been reported in several media outlets, including STAT.
Webster acknowledged that several of the patients in his documentary are “miserable” even while taking opioids, and the documentary makes the point that better treatments are desperately needed. For now, however, he said opioid medications are often the best of several flawed options.
“With all of the focus on opioid addiction, we are forgetting many people with pain who have benefited,” he said. “It’s the only thing that keeps them from suicide.”
Critical Article from STAT
I was a fan of the author David Armstrong when he wrote for Wall Street Journal. However, his recent article on Lynn Webster’s documentary starts out with guilt by association. Roughly a year ago, Lynn called me and asked for advice on how to promote this documentary. At that time, he was passionate about the way pain management patients and their physicians are being unfairly shunned by society.
Armstrong notes that Dr. Webster and several of the experts he quotes in the program have long-standing financial relationships with pain medicine makers. When asked why these relationships are not disclosed to viewers, Webster told STAT that he did not receive any drug industry funding for the documentary. He said it was funded entirely by himself and his wife.
“I am cognizant of that issue, but I think I dealt with it as carefully as I could,” he said in an interview. If viewers want to know whether any of the individual doctors associated with the documentary have financial relationships with pharmaceutical makers, Webster said they can search for that information on the web.
Dr. Webster Paid for the Documentary Himself
I encourage the media to call Lynn and hear why he did this documentary and paid for it out of his own pocket. Yes, Lynn worked for industry but that is by no means his primary motivation to do this documentary. Go spend some time in a pain clinic and meet some patients who are truly in pain, this is by no means a binary issue.
“There are dozens of important stories about people with opioid addiction almost daily but rarely is there a story about people in pain,” Webster said in an email to STAT.
Does the Media Own Some Part of the Opioid Crisis?
It hit me recently that the Media needs to take some responsibility for the Opioid crisis, in 2004 when the Cox 2 inhibitors were slammed as “unsafe” there was no thought to what other alternative therapies that were available to alleviate pain. Had the media or the medical community for that matter, paid just a little attention and thought, the best Cox 2 inhibitors would have been hugely successful and companies would have reaped the benefit, but the opioid crisis might never have happened.
Comments from Tom Fogarty, MD
We reached out to Tom Fogarty, Founder of the Fogarty Institute and inventor of the catheter, who stated,
Opioid addiction is a serious and worldwide problem that is ever increasing. The reasons are multi-factorial, unfortunately a minority of physicians are responsible for this. A doctor’s sole purpose is to relieve pain and suffering and the vast majority adhere to that doctrine. The minority who knowingly do not, should be investigated and corrected. Continued excessive use of opioid prescriptions (easily documented) should be followed by fines and some other forms of punishment imposed upon the responsible physician. Chronic addiction to opioids and other drugs should be handled by specialists in the field of pain management. Dr. Lynn Webster and others should be looked to for resolution of these problems. The majority should not be punished, that is our patients, by inappropriate laws or recommendations.
Viewpoints Should Not Be Discounted Because of Past Work History
It always bothers me when I see someone’s viewpoints discounted simply because they have worked for industry in the past. The author is capable of doing better work.
Further, Aaron Pruitt, director of content at MontanaPBS, said he was “not aware” of any financial connections between Webster and companies that make opioid pain relievers. “If there is some evidence of that, I have seen nothing,” he said. After being directed to public disclosures of those relationships, Pruitt wrote in an email, “As far as I can tell, he has been working with companies to find safer, less addictive treatments for patients.”
In a pitch to television stations offered the documentary, the distributors write that “NETA and MontanaPBS have carefully reviewed The Painful Truth, and the credentials of Dr. Webster. We have found Dr. Webster to be one of the country’s experts on pain treatment, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, and an advocate for the safe prescription of opioids.”
Disclosure: the company I own, Rockpointe, receives grants from pharmaceutical and device manufacturers for accredited educational programs.