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Who We're Leaving Out in the Opioid Addiction Conversation

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This is difficult to write. There’s been an awfully big uproar lately about opioid addiction and how drastically it’s affecting our countries and cultures. As of writing this, I’m watching a documentary in the background about prescription addiction on Netflix, and unfortunately, the documentary maker lost his own brother to opioid addiction while battling with his own. Several interviewed have lost family members to addiction. A recent famous singer autopsy report revealed that he passed away from an overdose to pain medicine. But here’s the problem with this rhetoric I keep hearing over and over, or rather lack thereof: Not every person who takes opioids is an addict.

I am on opioids, and I am not an addict. I know many people reading this are also not addicts. The media has unfortunately been leaving a huge portion of opioid users out of the picture. It’s these people who need to start having a voice in this conversation — those in chronic pain with disabling conditions. We are not addicts, although I don’t think many would deny it could easily turn into such a problem. We are dependent. Dependent to not be in pain, dependent to function, dependent to maintain some semblance of our lives and seeming “normalcy.” Without my pain medicine, there are days when I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed or spend time with friends and loved ones. Pain medicine absolutely gives me some sense of freedom from conditions that will likely never go away as I age, and I cannot imagine that freedom being taken away from me or so many others like me. 

I moderate and participate in several online support communities, and my partner works for a home health care agency. What has become imminently clear is this — many of us do not want to be on painkillers. Many of us would seek other options if they were readily available. However, due to what I believe are the systemic problems within the medical systems, we’re between a rock and a hard place. Many of us do not have the ways and means for other treatment options. Things like exercise, medicinal marijuana, disease modifying drugs and treatments, physical therapy, chiropractors, different ideologies for medicine and so forth, are extremely expensive, not easily accessible and sometimes illegal.

There is no doubt there is a problem, but I don’t believe painkillers are the inherent problem. I believe the problem varies on many levels from doctors not listening or pushing to find answers, to the big pharmaceuticals making obscene amounts of money, to general education, to lack of proper health awareness and help. Addiction is a horrid, life-altering, destructive thing, and we absolutely need to fix the problem. I’ve seen it happen and have even lost family and friends to it. It is easy too for a dependency to turn into an addiction, and I urge anyone who has a serious addiction to seek help. However, I believe those of us who actively benefit from prescription painkillers are drastically, and quickly, losing our voice.

So for those like me who use painkillers properly and for one step of our pain management, I urge you to speak up so we don’t lose our voice entirely. For those who love someone like me, change the rhetoric in your talks about opioid addiction by letting people know this is turning into an issue that’s taking away a lot from people with disabilities and chronic pain. Change the tables to show there are many more issues than just the pain pill epidemic and how we as disabled people can fight back. We have a problem, but the problem is not us, nor is it the drugs we take to live.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: June 15, 2016
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