How the 'War on Opioids' Is Hurting Patients With Chronic Pain
Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.
Pain. It seems like this topic should be simple to talk about, but pain is complicated. Pain is so far reaching; I barely knew how to format this piece of writing. Maybe because pain isn’t quantifiable in any traditional way. How can you diagnose something you can’t see? How can you treat something that isn’t tangible? How do you heal what seemingly isn’t broken?
I can’t possibly write about every school of thought, stance, opinion or circumstance with respect to opioids, the war on opioids or how it affects people in deeply personal ways, all in one short piece of writing. There are too many avenues, too many roads that diverge into far too many topics that contain too many viewpoints, history and information. The arguments are so strong because this situation is that complicated and pressing. I acknowledge every perspective and that they are all intertwined in this heavily deliberated subject. And they are all important.
I write today to express my standpoint. My voice. My point of view, shared by millions more in our country.
I feel cast aside.
I feel shamed.
I am scared.
I did nothing wrong.
I will be a causality of this war and no one is thinking twice about that.
I have lived in persistent chronic pain for 17 years. My body chemistry has physically changed to believe that pain is normal. I’ve gone through every test and every diagnostic procedure imaginable, and pursued every treatment available to me. I’ve repeated treatment options countless times hoping many of them will one day bring relief. I have adjusted my lifestyle countless times, changed my diet countless times, incorporated methods of healing from other cultures, pulled from all resources in Eastern and Western medicine and beyond.
I remain in constant pain, despite all my efforts. This abnormality is my normal, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
There are millions of people in this country alone who struggle with chronic pain every day, just like me. Chronic pain conditions are notoriously misunderstood and misdiagnosed.
For 17 years, I have taken painkillers to help manage my pain. I don’t take them every day. I don’t rely on them as a solution to a never-ending problem or view them as a cure. I take painkillers when I literally think about throwing myself into a wall because being unconscious is preferable to being in that much pain.
Yes, it is that extreme, because taking painkillers has never been a casual decision, for me or for my doctors (past and present) that prescribe them to me. Doctors shouldn’t prescribe painkillers unless they are absolutely, medically necessary and patients shouldn’t be reckless about taking them.
The uncomfortable truth that no one wants to talk about is some patients need painkillers to survive. Yes, need. This is not debatable. This is not politics. But myself and patients like me are severely punished in this war on opioid addiction. We are the people whose quality of life will be greatly affected, even though we have done nothing wrong and have taken our medication as directed. We are the people who are constantly shamed, every day, for this reality we live in and cannot change. And we are the last people who should apologize for needing this legitimate medical treatment.
I recognize that in the 1990s, there was a significant increase in the prescription of opioids for chronic pain. I understand the drug companies’ endorsement of painkillers as a “safe” treatment played a big role in the mess we are in today. But now the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction.
I know addiction, to any substance, is dangerous and claims hundreds of thousands of lives every year. I have personally known many people who have struggled with addiction. I have struggled alongside them as they battled it, lost themselves to it, overcame it or lost their lives to it. I know what addiction is capable of – the destruction, anger, havoc, loss and devastation it brings upon the person with addiction and their loved ones. Addiction needs to be taken seriously, treated seriously and covered by insurance.
But dependent is not the same as addicted.
If I didn’t take painkillers, the only thing that would be affected would be my quality of life.
This does not make me an addict.
I’m familiar with the counterarguments to my above statements. I’ve heard them countless times:
1. Painkillers should not be a legitimate medical treatment because prolonged use is not safe.
2. Painkillers are addictive.
3. More and more people die from opioid overdoes every year.
These counterarguments are not fair or justified for people living in chronic pain. I believe these counterarguments do nothing except perpetuate a culture of shame surrounding chronic illness.
Many people living with chronic pain conditions already live with constant guilt about their circumstances. The shame and stigma I have encountered living with a chronic pain has driven me to hide it from the world. It is only recently I have begun to speak openly about the side of my life I never let anyone see. Early on, my honesty was met with hostility and rejection. People don’t understand what they cannot see.
I chose to live a life that includes more than being a professional patient with four doctor appointments a month. But this choice comes with the price of being misunderstood even more. The daily physical and emotional struggles I have are enough. I don’t need government officials completely destroying the quality of life I have come to know with medication.
In an effort to save the lives of people who abuse prescription drugs or become addicted to illegal drugs, this “war on opioids” is setting up a medical system that will only bring misery to patients who are not addicted to drugs and in genuine need of painkillers. My rights and my fellow chronic pain patients’ rights are on the line. When you live in constant physical pain and you find something that provides you with any kind of relief, it cannot and should not be taken away.
This post originally appeared on The World Next Door.
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