To the Congressman Promising to 'Combat the Opioid Epidemic'
I received your card in my mail today. Normally I glance at the name and photo plastered on the glossy cardstock, maybe read the issues of importance to you, and toss it in the trash. Yours, however, caught my attention. I noticed that your byline is “Combating the Opioid Epidemic.” I, too, find this issue important, so I decided to do some research on your opinions and try to figure out if you would be my friend or foe in this battle I call life with chronic pain.
Now, my chronic condition hasn’t been fully diagnosed and I have only ever had one narcotic prescription which I use very sparingly because it only helps with some of my symptoms which I don’t experience constantly. Other symptoms have come to stay and have never responded to medication. I do know many people who have found a way to function and continue life the best they can with the help of pain medication. However, new opioid laws have made it more and more difficult to get these medications and often those in need of them are treated as criminals and addicts. I myself have felt the judgement of a nurse who did not believe me when I said I have been in constant pain since February 8, 2013. I had not slept for nearly 40 hours and was in extreme pain and instead of helping me feel better, she refused to ask the doctor for pain medication for me and five hours later I was given Toradol. Trust me, if Toradol had any effect, I would not put myself through the trouble of going to the emergency department. I understand that opioid abuse is a very real problem that most definitely requires attention. I unfortunately had a friend pass away in high school from abuse of prescription pain medication, so I have experienced several sides of this issue. I have seen the devastation opioid medication can cause when not used properly, but I have also seen people be able to return to their lives when these medications are used as intended.
In the research I have done so far I have noticed that you did not legislate making access to opioids more difficult, but rather to expand treatment for those addicted as well as making data on opioid prescriptions more accessible to the bodies that use it. Thank you for that. It breaks my heart when patients trying to do their best are looked down upon and made to feel like criminals. I believe there is a happy medium between health care providers and patients, but it is difficult to find. My mother was a nurse for 23 years and I know she has seen patients who ask for specific pain medications and a specific dose. This is a tricky tightrope because behavior like that often indicates drug abuse. However, being a chronic pain patient myself, I know that trips to emergency rooms can be more successful when treatments that do not work are ruled out from the start and intervention that is known to be effective is used.
I would like to urge you to consider fighting for the legalization of medical marijuana. I believe this could be a very effective alternative to opioid use. I have read several studies done in states that have legalized medical marijuana and have seen that there were significantly less prescriptions written for narcotics, anxiety disorders, seizure medications, and anti-nausea medications, among others. This subject is extremely important to me because I feel that while opioids are being fought against, there are not many alternative options that are being offered. Often alternative therapies are very expensive and not covered by insurance. I know firsthand the feeling of hopelessness when the medical professionals who should be providing treatment have nothing else to offer and non-traditional options are simply not an option. This feeling of isolation can lead to serious depression and self-medication which then further perpetuates the original problem.
While I do not support the usage of marijuana for recreational purposes, I believe it is a much safer option for treatment of countless conditions and diseases. Fatal cases of marijuana overdose and addiction seem to be much less of factors. I am genuinely baffled why this is still such a debated topic when the pros seem to far outweigh the cons of this treatment option. I ask you to please be cognizant of the community I became a part of over three years ago. I did not ask for this experience and if I could change the fact that my body attacks itself daily, I would without a second of hesitation. However, as long as this is my battle to fight, I will do my best to be the voice of those of us in the opioid conversation that are often forgotten — those of us who may be dependent on pain medication to function, but are not addicts. Those of us who fight each and every day to live as much of a life as we can and must fight the stigma of chronic conditions and the judgement that comes with an invisible illness.