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Why I'm Not 'Lucky' to Be Taking Opiates

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Maybe they’re trying to make light of the situation, because the opioid crisis is all they see on the news. Maybe they think it’s funny, because most times when they hear about opioids, it’s all in the context of teenagers popping them at parties. Maybe they really do think I’m living some sort of glamorous life, because they took pills for three days after their wisdom teeth were removed and enjoyed it. There are so many “maybes” about why, when people find out what medications I’m on, they chuckle and say, “Lucky!”

If you’ve never had to take opiates (I’ll call them opiates here, but I mean opiates, opioids and narcotics) to get through a normal day, you don’t understand why I’m not lucky. You don’t understand what it’s like to depend on a medication that feels like it’s killing your body and controlling your mind, just to go about basic human activities (barely). You don’t understand what it’s like to be in total fear of the day your doctor’s office is closed but you’re out of medications. Or your insurance says you cannot refill your prescription for another week, but you’re already out of pills. Or the day your pill bottle falls from your bag somewhere in a parking lot and you have to convince a pharmacist that you did not sell them or take them all quicker than you were supposed to. If having these pills makes me lucky, I’d be sure to tell you that my luck has run out more times than one.

Opiates affect everyone differently. I have taken some that make me forget my pain, some that put me to sleep and some that do nothing at all. However, one fact resounds within many opiate users: We eventually become tolerant and dependent on the medications. This means that although my pain was terrible before the medications, when I stop taking them the pain is worse, along with withdrawal symptoms. And although I may already take a more-than-normal dose, I will eventually need to take more in order to get the same effect. In essence, taking these medications does not necessarily lead to a promising future. It leads some to overdose, rehab or some other terrible, very unlucky experience.

I don’t believe in luck. I believe the world we live in is utterly complex and almost mysterious. We cannot understand the effects of all that we are and all that we do. But there is one thing I know for sure. Taking opiates does not make me lucky. It makes me functional (I’ll say it again – barely), for now. Trust me, you are much luckier if you don’t ever have to go near them.

Of course, there are people dying from these pills every day. And that’s not cute, or funny. It’s definitely not lucky. It’s sad. And it’s terrifying to the rest of us. Those of us who take them as prescribed. Those of us who are painstakingly careful about addiction and abuse. It’s terrifying because there is one thing about opiates that is lucky. They can save a life just as easily as they can take one. We live on a tightrope, walking a line that can literally mean life or death. Without these pills, there are many of us who would be spending our entire lives in bed, in therapies that didn’t work, taking over-the-counter medications over and over, hoping they will work this time. Many of us whose humanity would have been lost long ago if we didn’t have something to ease the pain. Trust me – trust us – it’s not luck. It’s survival.

Getty photo by Antonio_Diaz

Originally published: March 28, 2018
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