People: Living with Pain – Physician Abandonment and Suicide in Florida

Living with Pain: Physician Abandonment and Suicide in Florida


Last December, Joe Malone came home from work and found his wife, Michelle, dead from an intentional overdose of prescription medicine. She was only 49.

“I lost the person I loved most in the whole world. She’s never coming back. I’ll never be the same person,” Joe says of his wife’s suicide.

Like thousands of other pain patients, Michelle was a casualty of a war on drugs gone mad. The battlefield was Florida – a state that’s enacted tough laws and regulations to combat the abuse of opioid medicine. The crackdown has led to the needed closure of many pill mills, but it has so intimidated doctors and pharmacists – who fear losing their licenses — that many are denying opioid analgesics to legitimate pain patients.

Some patients, like Michelle, simply can’t live with the pain anymore.

Michelle and Joe Malone

It was twelve years ago, when the Malones were living in Middletown, Connecticut that Michelle was first diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. RSD affects the skin, bones and joints with searing pain.

Michelle learned that RSD was little understood and often treated with skepticism by doctors – many of whom are not adequately trained in pain medicine.

Like so many other pain patients, Michelle heard the most destructive thing a physician can say, “The pain isn’t real, it’s all in your head.”

RSD spread insidiously throughout her body, leaving Michelle in excruciating pain that led to despair, fleeting hope and recurring disappointment. She tried using opioid analgesics, such as a Fentanyl patch, but they only lessened her pain and did not stop it.

Michelle’s doctor recommended that the Malones move to a warmer climate. They followed that advice six years ago and relocated to Pensacola, Florida with all of her medical records and a referral to a pain specialist there.

Abandoned by Physicians

Michelle was referred to a well-respected pain clinic in north Florida, where a physician came up with his own medicine for pain, a formula mixed by a nearby pharmacist. This provider required all his pain patients, including Michelle, to discontinue all the drugs they were taking before they would be given this new medicine. Predictably, Michelle entered withdrawal as she came off the opioids too quickly.

As part of her treatment, Michelle was required to travel to the clinic weekly for an educational support group. It was a 45-minute drive from her home to the clinic. Michelle couldn’t drive herself and needed Joe to take her to appointments, but Joe couldn’t always get off work to do that. After a few missed meetings, Michelle was first warned and then dropped from the practice for failure to comply with the treatment plan. For Michelle, this was another in a line of physicians who abandoned her. Thoughts of suicide and a desire to stop the relentless pain increased.

“It really messed with her head, nobody wanted to help her. This is why she was depressed,” Joe recalls bitterly. “We had to rely on emergency rooms, but they treated her like shit, saying she was drug seeking, Not true. She only wanted relief.”

Like so many others inadequately treated for pain, Michelle’s condition deteriorated. She couldn’t work, do house chores or care for herself. Though often confined to bed, she developed insomnia.

“I would hold her up and we’d pace around the house for hours, it was the only way she could cope with the sleeplessness and pain,” said Joe.

Four years before her suicide, Michelle finally found a physician who understood RSD. Michelle saw her regularly and faithfully followed her medical orders and advice. Again, she relied on an opioid analgesic to lessen the pain. However much relief she gained from this treatment, it left her in lonesome anguish.

Michelle saw her physician for her regular appointment on December 16, 2011. According to Joe, she came home from the appointment to find a letter that explained to her in vague terms that her physician would no longer prescribe her medicine and would no longer treat her.

“You know what I’ll do if I can’t get my medicine,” she said that night in despair when Joe returned home from work.

Yes, Joe knew. Michelle had attempted suicide before, after other practices abandoned her.

Two days later, on December 18, Michelle took her own life.

Climate of Fear

There is a climate of fear and despair in Florida among pain patients who can’t get good medical care or have their opioid medicines filled in a timely fashion.

Yes, the public needs to be protected from opioid medicine abuse. But legitimate pain patients whose only relief comes from a combination of treatments that often entail opioid analgesics also need protection from the hysteria among the media, certain health care providers and politicians.

There are all too many reports of pain patients dying from complications of pain or from suicide. It’s not just despair that causes many pain patients to opt for dying. It is the only way many can think of to stop their agony.

What is so disturbing about what happened to Michelle and uncounted others in Florida and throughout our country is the cavalier abandonment of our most endangered patients. Michelle’s death was an entirely predictable tragedy resulting from our misguided war on drugs.

There are many resources available for people having suicidal thoughts, including a toll free hotline where counselors are available 24 hours a day. Family members or loved ones can also find tips about suicide prevention and spotting the warning signs of suicidal behavior. 

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn lives in the east bay of San Francisco where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog can be found here

The views, opinions and positions expressed in this column are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of American News Report, Microcast Media Group or any of its employees, directors, owners, contractors or affiliate organizations. American News Report makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information in this column, and is not responsible or liable for any errors, omissions, or delays (intentional or not) in this information; or any losses, injuries, and or damages arising from its display, publication, dissemination, interpretation or use.

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4 responses to “People: Living with Pain – Physician Abandonment and Suicide in Florida

  1. This story is a heart wrenching on so many levels. I can relate to this from a personal experience. Geoff was not pain meds most of the time he suffered from his condition. He went through 2 different “Pain Management” programs .
    these programs teach a patient to do other things and NOT use any type of “narcotic” for pain control.
    They are told in these classes that narcotics are for short term pain- and not long term, chronic pain.
    Yes, Geoff was accused of being “med seeking” as well.

    I found it very hard to understand how the treating physicians were convinced that he was “faking” his pain when they would give him IV dilaudid and he Still would scream of unrelenting pain.
    He stopped breathing 3 different times because the narcotics were so strong.

    When Geoff completed suicide, it was the first time in 8 years he had pain medications given to him. He “managed” his pain by using the neurostimulator and major changes in his life style.

    In his last letter to us, Geoff told us that this diagnosis was terminal for him – he hung around as long as he could, for us.

    The medical delivery system consistently lets individuals with chronic pain down. In fact, the military doctors were just cruel and indifferent.
    It is not just in the military, it is rampant throughout the health care delivery system.
    This story is heart breaking, and in so many ways the same story as Geoff’s.

  2. I lost my wife from depression, self esteem, bi polar, and addictions to medications. All her sisters and brother have the same. I loved her, and found her, I feel, I will never be the same, I cried every night for a year and a half, still do some nights after over three years. I have problems with new relationships. I was married to her for 41 years, she was smart, a nurse, and the best friend I ever had. Will I ever get, to where I can love again, without pain, have a life, or is this it, what’s left. I show every one the happy old me, but inside I am far from it. What do I do? I went to counseling after, it helped a little, but it feels hopeless.

  3. My wife also had RSD/CRPS and just recently passed away from a prescription drug overdose. She was a 32 year old mother of 2. I can relate to everything the Malones went through. RSD/CRPS is a horrific disease that is grossly misunderstood and often misdiagnosed and mistreated. Please visit rsds-dot-org to learn more and make a donation to support research and awareness.

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