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The Bigger Issue We Need to Consider After CVS's Limitation of Opioid Prescriptions

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Last night, I read a news story like so many others. The title of the story was by NBC News. It simply read, “CVS Pharmacy to Limit Opioid Prescriptions.” As I clicked the link, my eyes wide, I was hoping the contents would not be what I thought they were. Unfortunately, I was wrong in my thinking. CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the United States, has decided to begin limiting its distribution of opioid painkillers. The amount of fear this struck into my heart was intense. I immediately began to ponder what life without any pain management would feel like. The reality is I can’t even fathom it.

I have fibromyalgia along with severe back problems, both of which cause serious pain by themselves. This does not include my other physical issues. I know so well that opioids don’t get rid of my fibro pain. There’s something different about it. But, they do tone down my back pain (which extends into my legs and torso, even affecting my ability to feel certain parts of my body). They take my level five daily pain down to a three, which I can tolerate. I can’t imagine not having any pain control with my symptoms the way they are and having to live in that much pain day in and day out.


The reality is that so many people do have to live like that every day. So many people have nothing to control their pain. Yes, we have states where medical marijuana is available. We have states who gladly supply the chronically ill and chronically in-pain with that help. The reality is, however, that it doesn’t work for everyone. The reality is that opioids don’t touch some people. Many people with fibromyalgia are unaffected by opioids. To what end, though?

This decision by CVS set a precedent, and a very dangerous one at that.

CVS has stated that they will only be limiting opioids to patients with short-term pain, such as acute pain from dental surgery. Even in that statement, however, they are hurting people. The reality is that a staggering number of “acute” patients are actually chronic pain patients who haven’t received proper treatment and/or diagnoses and are struggling with their pain on a deep, daily level. What of them?

Where do these people fit in? Should we expect them to struggle in pain because their physicians and healthcare professionals have been inept in their treatment?

Years ago, my mother passed away suddenly from hypertensive heart disease, an ICD-10 classified illness. We probably could not have prevented her death due to other conditions, but it could have been caught. That’s another story for another time, though. What I did notice during the weeks afterwords was something I was told by New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator, or OMI. OMI is one of the most respected medical investigator’s offices in the world. When I was speaking with them about my mother’s autopsy results (we didn’t know she had HHD), the OMI employee I spoke with said that, in the report, there was mention of muscular and cellular damage. When I pressed for answers, she said it was damage from years of intense pain.

Pain physically damages our bodies. I had my suspicions, but now had confirmation. My mother also had severe fibromyalgia. She took two to three medications just for pain.. and it was pain that never went away. She smoked marijuana maybe one time during her struggling and, from what I remember, was immediately offered relief. Her pain vanished. It, of course, was back a few hours later.

Think about that. Think about how bad a person’s pain would be to cause that much damage. Her pain was so excruciating and intense. She had already seen so many doctors who, by and large, had told her, “There’s nothing wrong with you” and “It’s all in your head,” phrases which so many of us are all-too familiar with and deeply disheartened by. They mean several things when we hear them.

First, they mean we must be lying. Second, they mean we will not receive the care we need from these people. Lastly, they mean we must continue searching for any effective treatment and care from wherever else we can. That process alone is exhausting and always carries a risk of having to go elsewhere and, in extreme cases, our own deaths.

We, the chronically ill and in pain, need alternatives to opioids. We, the responsible, chronically in-pain and chronically ill, are aware of the long-term damage to our bodies from opioid use. We need an alternative. This is unacceptable. No one should have to struggle like this, be stigmatized by those who are healthcare professionals like this, be forced to go elsewhere or face death like this.

I am not foolish enough to say my pain is controlled by opioid use alone. It isn’t. It is managed. It is taken to a manageable level. But it remains. I have no alternative. We have no alternative. Even those who can use medical marijuana face the reality that it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need a combination and some people need more. But, what entails “more?”

We need alternatives. I can’t say that enough. That headline was a stark reminder of just how much we, the chronically ill and in pain, are at the mercy of others. It was a stark reminder of how many people have struggled needlessly and how many more people will because of the stigma, lack of research and lack of care so many have for people who struggle. There has got to be a light here at the end of this tunnel.

The best we can do is speak up. The best we can do is band together. The best we can do is support one another. Let us do these things right now and let us continue our fight and uplift those who are near giving up. We cannot be silent about this. We must be loud.

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Thinkstock photo via moodboard.

Originally published: September 27, 2017
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