NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Greta Fields has a chronic disease but she is considered non-exempt to laws restricting the number of opioid prescriptions in Tennessee.
The 60-year-old lung cancer survivor has been dealing with reactive airway disease for two years. She not only relies on an oxygen machine to help her breath, but uses a face mask four times a day to administer countless medication.
The only opioid Fields uses is a liquid form of Hydrocodone that she is prescribed to take every 12 hours. It helps treat her extreme coughing caused by the disease.
Fields may use the opioid but not frequently. She typically takes the drug when first prescribed and slowly gets off of them as her condition improves. She always had it available in case her condition becomes unbearable.
"It's a smothering feeling and it's very frightening to live with this," Fields said. "Instead of staying up all night coughing, I try the Hydrocodone cough syrup because when you cough your ribs hurt, your head hurts and even I broke two ribs."
However, her latest prescription last week came as a shock to her. The bottle was smaller than other bottles in the past, which were either twice or triple the amount.
It was her first prescription since the new laws restricting the number of opioid prescriptions took effect in July. For first-time or non-frequent users, the supply is limited to just three days.
"I feel that a huge over-correction has happened and it negatively affects patients like me," Fields said. "My issue is I won't have it when I need it."
There are several exemptions to the law including if a patient is in hospice care, battling cancer or even if being treated with an opioid daily for 90 days or more during the year. Fields said she does not fit in any of the categories because she only gets prescriptions when needed, and not on a regular basis.
Tennessee Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan said there is a good reason behind the three-day limit.
"After the first three days, the curve of the number of people who will continue to use opioids who have not been using it before begins to increase. That very few days is so important to use it as needed but as low amount as you can get and the shortest duration you can have," Reagan said.
He said if you are prescribed opioids for 10 days, there is a 20 percent chance you will still be using them a year later if you are not a regular user.
Fields believes in the idea of preventing opioid abuse, but she feel she is left in a grey area with her condition.
"I started digging around in my cabinets for old medicine and thankfully I had some because I was really considering going back to the hospital and just letting them keep me until I got a little further along," she said.
For a list of patients who are exempt, click on this