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What You Need to Understand About the 'Other Side' of the Opioid Debate

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The debate over pain medication is a dominant topic in our current medical society. We hear constant news stories about opioid overdoses, people illegally selling pills and blatant misuse of medications to manage pain.

In the current political and medical climate, it is no wonder that doctors are hesitant to write prescriptions for pain medication.

I typically try to avoid controversial topics, but I feel this topic needs to be addressed. It seems as if those who have never experienced agonizing pain are the dominating voices in this debate.

Let me first say that I am all for healthy eating, exercise, alternative and holistic therapy as the first line treatment for pain. True healthcare should seek to eliminate the source of pain instead of simply mask it with medicine. For example– with arthritis, there is much research that eliminating gluten and dairy and adding an exercise regimen lowers inflammation rates in the body and helps improve a patient’s pain level.  Medical solutions such as physical therapy and holistic nutrition can help manage pain in various other diseases. Self-care, getting proper rest and hydration should also be first line solutions when trying to manage pain.

But what happens when even with the addition of exercise, healthy food and rest, a patient is still in pain?

I was this person. I was the person who tried everything possible to manage my pain to no avail. I’ve been gluten-free for seven years and dairy-free for two years. I am in physical therapy for exercise, etc.

I started having severe pain at 12 years old. I later discovered I had endometriosis.

I started having chronic kidney stones and infections at 15 years old. I later discovered I have medullary sponge kidneys (MSK).

I visited emergency rooms many times in my young life. I saw countless doctors. I saw every specialist available in my area. I suffered with horrible, gut-wrenching agony throughout my teenage years. I missed work and school frequently.

Not one doctor ever offered pain medication to me. In my young life, I struggled with severe pain. My body was taxed for so many years, I developed adrenal failure (Addison’s disease).

I can only help but wonder, had my pain been managed…had I had some relief, would my body have ended up in the state it is in now?

Anyone who has ever had a kidney stone will tell you it is one of the most painful experiences possible. You feel as if you are being stabbed. You are nauseated. Your whole body feels like it is under attack. The infections that come with chronic stones are just as painful. I was constantly in danger of becoming septic. With the endometriosis as well, my young life was filled with agony. I suffered with agonizing pain, migraines, stones, etc.

Advil was my go-to medication. Which anyone with stones will tell you…it is like eating grape jelly when you are in that much pain.

Pain medication was never offered to me, because I was so young.

I couldn’t “possibly have been trusted with such a big responsibility,” a doctor once told me.

I was a 4.0 GPA, straight-A student, on debate team, volunteered at church, still had yet to take even one drink of alcohol. I didn’t even drink soda as a teenager. I suffered, solely because I was young.

There are many others who suffer because of ignorant doctors.

Now, at 24 years old, I know what is wrong with me. A doctor finally looked past my age and into my symptoms. I now have to see a pain management clinic every 30 days just to get a script. I pay a $60 co-pay just for “pain management.”

And that right there is something that has been left out of this debate — the concept of pain management. You see, with my health there is not one moment I am not in pain. The pain medication simply allows my pain to be at a level where I don’t absolutely lose my mind. This is not always the case; sometimes my pain is so intense that the medicine doesn’t even touch it.

Anyone with severe chronic pain will tell you the same story.

Pain medicine is a means to cope with the agony.

It does not make us feel good. It doesn’t even make us feel normal.

They just make it so life is a little bit less of a torture session.

Now imagine how terrifying it would be to know that a movement is trying to take slight relief away.

For many of those who live with chronic pain, pain medicine is not a means to get high.

Any pain management patient would rather not be on medication. We would much rather live our lives without having to worry about taking pills just to move.

I was never offered pain medicine and now I have adrenal failure. I will always wonder if my body had not been so physically taxed, where would my health be?

My message is this:

If you have never been in so much pain that you’ve started bargaining with God, then you have no right to an opinion on whether pain medication should be prescribed or not.

Most of us with chronic illness do the “bargaining with God” conversation at least once a week.

If something makes your life better, and it is legal and doesn’t harm anyone else — by all means you should be allowed to keep that in your life.

Pain medicine does not take pain away. It is not a means to get high. It is a means to having and sustaining some semblance of a life.

So please, educate yourself before you jump on the anti-opioid bandwagon.

Originally published: April 29, 2019
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