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A cancer patient who can't afford meds: The other side of the opioid crisis

Meet Joseph Hollaway

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Introducing the flip side of the opioid crisis: Meet Joseph Hollaway, a Texas man who lives with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow.

Every moment of his life is carefully calculated.

“Just turning from one part of the counter to the other requires a little thought as to where I'm moving (and) how I'm moving,” Hollaway said. “You know, you don't want to twist and bend.”

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Hollaway’s wife, Sheri, counts down to the next time she will give Joseph a pill to stop his pain. Multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer of the bone marrow, which makes his bones brittle and easily susceptible to breaks. Joseph has five areas in his body with bone cancer. Relief has come in the form of a prescription opioid, OxyContin Extended Release.

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“(When he first tried it), it was a godsend because we could give it to him at 9 in the morning, at 9 at night, and he only needed a breakthrough pill every now and then for pain, and he was able to sit comfortably,” Sheri said.

But when Joseph's 20-day prescription ran out, his Medicare drug plan refused to pay for a refill. The couple believes it's because OxyContin is an opioid.

“I understand and sympathize with the families of people who have died from drug overdoses, but this is a drug that works for some people," Sheri said.

The Hollaways have appealed the decision to their Medicare drug plan, but lost. They could pay out of pocket for the medication, but the cost is about $1,300 a month.

“I mean, that's simply out of our budget to do that," she said. “ ... It hurts me to think of losing him in the end, but watching, watching him die in pain is not something that any wife should have to go through,” Sheri said.

Reporting by Tera Roberson/KPRC.


Read more: Special coverage: Opioid Addiction


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