What the Opioid Crisis Looks Like for Someone With Chronic Pain


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I think it’s reasonable to say that most individuals over the age of 15 living in the U.S. today have at least heard something about the opiate crisis. “Opiates are bad.” “Narcotics are addictive.” “They ruin lives and have a high risk for overdose.” “Opiates are a gateway drug and lead to use of street drugs and illegal self-medicating.” (5th-10th grade health class, yah?) That’s what we learn about the opiate crisis: bad, bad, bad.

Opiates/narcotics can be dangerous… if used incorrectly or illegally. But for people like me, who are living with multiple chronic pain conditions, this opiate crisis is affecting our treatment plans and more importantly, our quality of life and ability to function.

That said, and all dramatics and sarcasm aside, for those of us living with chronic illnesses, the opiate crisis is not the same crisis you hear about in the news or in a doctor’s office…

My opioid crisis involves trying to make the very limited quantity of pain medication last the whole month, every month… and then I have to trek back to the doctor to try to advocate for myself and my needs when a change in dosage or medication is needed. I’m really shy/bad at confrontation and in-person advocacy so this is a big stress for me.

My opioid crisis is struggling to make each dose last long enough; dealing with a connective tissue condition and genetics that make my body metabolize pain medications too quickly has made treating my pain very hard. High doses of pain meds are hard to get with all of the new FDA laws that are in place due to recreational users and ODs, which of course have nothing to do with my case, but laws are laws and now it’s been made my crisis, your crisis and that of everyone with an addiction and every legal pain patient who uses these meds.

My opioid crisis involves choosing between being able to function during the day or being able to sleep at night. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t paint or write because of the pain in my hands, wrists and arms. I can’t stand too long, sit still or lay down without having severe pain in my back and hips. When does the pain end? What is more important, sleep or being productive and (semi)functional during the day?

My opioid crisis means facing the consequences of others’ actions; I don’t abuse drugs nor do I purchase them illegally or without a prescription. I use pain meds because I am unable to really live without having a way to try to manage the pain, no different than how I work to manage my nausea or my migraines, any of my symptoms that can affect my quality of life.

My opioid crisis may not be “normal,” but it’s real. I know so many other girls going through these trials; we are lucky to have each other, but the stress and the guilt and the disappointment from disappointing doctors and failed treatments or lack of access to medications can be overwhelming. There are no words to explain how deeply the system can affect us – and not just because of opiates.

I would love to find something aside from narcotics that would relieve my pain effectively. I want to paint for hours with no shooting pains in my arms, hands or back, and I want to type without my wrists feeling like they’re black and blue with bruises every time they hit the laptop/keyboard. I want to sleep all night and run a full bag of tube feeds without waking up in too much pain to sit up.

I don’t want to be on narcotics. I have so many goals, and none of them include narcotics, but they also don’t include severe, widespread joint and nerve pain. I also understand why there are strict rules on medications like narcotics. I wouldn’t want them to be easily available to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that those who are truly, legitimately suffering – whether it be acute (post-op, injury, car wreck) or chronic (fibromyalgia, arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, CRPS, etc.) – should have to continue to struggle when there are actually medications that could make a difference!

Not all of my conditions have treatments. Not all of my symptoms can be managed. So if I find something that helps, and I have doctors saying it makes sense, why does it have to be so damn hard to get ahold of these medications? This system is just mind-boggling sometimes.

I want to be a person, not a patient, not a statistic in a research study, just Rachel.

That’s a glimpse at my opiate crisis.

Getty Image by Charles Wollertz


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