woman taking a selfie

When I Found 'Drug-Seeking Behaviors' Listed on My Discharge Papers


Now that it’s been confirmed Prince’s death was caused by an overdose of pain meds, it really feels timely and prudent to make some sort of response, especially as someone who has chronic pain and who relies on pain meds to function every day.

My pain – and especially my pain meds – is not something I talk about much with people outside of my “sick friend” community.

These days there seems to be this huge stigma attached to narcotic pain meds and those of us who are prescribed them. I’m going to step outside of my comfort zone for a moment here in this space and tell you just a small slice of what I’ve experienced: being pigeonholed and made to feel ashamed and dependent and somehow less-than others, all because I am prescribed narcotic pain meds for my chronic pain.

I want you to know that I’ve tried other types of drugs for pain, too. I’ve tried different types of anti-depressants, which made me feel groggy and like I was outside of myself. I tried a couple of drugs in the class of Gabapentin, which made me dissociative and combative. Gabapentin itself caused me to pass out on the toilet in the middle of the night and hit my head on the stone trim of my bathtub. That was not fun. I had a naso-jejunal
feeding tube at that time, and while I was passed out on my side, my feeding tube began to retract out of my small intestine and coil up into my stomach, so that incident ended up being filled with more peril and problems than were necessary. I’ve tried everything I can think of – and, to this point, everything my doctors can think of – to not have to be on narcotics for pain. But, ironically, the narcotic I’m on has been the safest drug for me with the least amount of side effects.

Yet still, the medical community often makes me feel as though I am either already abusing narcotics, or as though I may be, at any moment, tip-toeing down the road to abuse simply because I’m being prescribed them.

That makes me sad.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in the hospital lately, and after a recent five-day stay, I was reading through my discharge paperwork after I came home, when I came across the supposed reasons why they had admitted me into the hospital for that visit.

Alongside diagnoses such as “hypokalemia,” and “essential hypertension,” and “intractable nausea and vomiting,” were the types of diagnoses someone like me hopes never to see: things like “drug-seeking behavior,” and “drug abuse,” and “narcotic abuse, continuous.”

Even now, even though I know those words are on that piece of paper, I am shocked to see them there. I am shocked someone thought those things about me and put them there, and selfie of author to have made them think those things about me.

There are tears in my eyes while I’m typing out these words to you, because I am just so confused about how someone could view me so wrongly. Then when I see the doctor’s name next to those diagnoses and realize it is someone who I have not only never seen, but also never spoken to, and someone who doesn’t know me at all except as an electronic chart, I can see how they might make such a misunderstanding. But that still doesn’t give them the right to make that sort of snap judgment about someone like me – the sort of snap judgment that could ruin my medical chart and my life.

I did follow up on those diagnoses with that hospital with a nice lady who seemed eager to help. In the end, I received a somewhat vague apology from her, explaining that when I had been admitted into the hospital through the ER for that stay in the first place, they had asked me if I felt well enough to stay or to go home, and I had told them that I did not feel well enough to go home, and this is often categorized as “drug-seeking behavior.” Which confuses me because I was not aware the patient ever makes a final decision as to whether she should be admitted, and I don’t understand how telling them I didn’t feel well enough to go home should be considered drug-seeking.

It seems to me the list of drug-seeking behaviors is getting longer and beginning to encompass actions that – to my mind, anyway – have nothing to do with seeking drugs.

In the end, I was informed those diagnoses would be removed from my file, but the fact that they were ever there in the first place is saddening and demoralizing. Because I know the truth, friends, and the truth is that I am not an addict or a drug-seeker. I am simply in pain, and I have a wonderful family doctor who prescribes my pain meds so I can use them thoughtfully and carefully. Unfortunately, society and the medical community has made me something else.

Editor’s note: This post is based off an individual’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see a medical professional before starting or stopping any medication.

Related to Chronic Pain

The 3 Most Important Words You Can Say to a Loved One With Chronic Pain

“People need to be encouraged. People need to be reminded of how wonderful they are.  People need to be believed in — told they are brave and smart and capable of accomplishing all the dreams they dream and more.  Remind each other of this.” — Stacey Jean Speer People generally do not need a lot from others to [...]
Concept of accusation guilty person girl.

The Daily Struggle With Chronic Illness and ‘Chronic’ Guilt

Erin and her husband. It’s been three years now that I’ve been living with chronic pain and invisible illnesses. It’s taken me the entire three years to come to terms that my life will never be the same, and it’s something I still struggle with every day. What bothers me most, what is usually on [...]
Two embracing teddy bears looking through the window sitting on window-sill.

The Friendships I Never Expected to Lose Because of My Chronic Pain

Chronic pain turned my life upside-down and inside-out. I had to give up my rock climbing, skydiving and whitewater rafting. I cried as I signed the paperwork to sell my motorcycle. Seeing anyone dancing is a stab in the heart of intense longing. Even keeping up with work became a challenge, whereas it was once [...]
4 year old kaycie

'What Does Love Feel Like, Mommy?'

Three days ago my daughter, who just recently turned 4, asked me one of the most difficult questions anyone has ever asked me: “Mommy, what does love feel like?” We were driving home, and I was lost in thought and completely taken aback. I always try to answer her questions, even when I do not [...]