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The Facts About Fibromyalgia and the Opioid Crisis I Wish People Understood

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Like so many, I’ve been watching the news stories lately about the opioid crisis. I’ve been watching the chronic pain community. I’ve been paying attention to the uptick in pain-related suicides. I’ve been watching people being refused their pain medication from national pharmacy chains. I’ve been watching the slow criminalization of those of us in chronic pain. So, I started asking some questions. I started researching the facts and facts that specifically pertained to my chronic pain.

Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record.”

Fact: According to the CDC, “Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths more than quadrupled, and more than 12,989 people died in 2015.”

Fact: According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey published in 2015, “It found that an estimated 25.3 million adults (11.2 percent) experience chronic pain — that is, they had pain every day for the preceding three months. Nearly 40 million adults (17.6 percent) experience severe levels of pain.”

Fact: According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia “…affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 3 to 6 percent of the world population. While it is most prevalent in women — 75 to 90 percent of the people who have fibromyalgia are women —it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic groups,” approximately 223.26 million to 446.52 million people worldwide.

Fact: According to a study of chronic pain patients published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, “93 percent ‘strongly agreed/agreed’ that they would be more likely to choose cannabis to treat their condition if it were more readily available.”

All of those are facts. Every one of them. Now, I can’t speak for other people, but I can speak for myself.

My pain level, for example, without pain management, hovers between an eight to a 10 on a basis of “normal pain day” to “bad pain day.” “Good pain days” are extremely rare, but even they hover around a six. I take opioid pain medications. Bear in mind that I have, for the past 14 years, been searching for pain management treatments. I have done everything from acupuncture to yoga to supplements to physical therapy to surgery to muscle relaxers to gabapentin. My pain is not going away. It has, actually, gotten worse. Opioids were a last resort. I don’t take more than four per day (on the bad days).

Now, I have looked into CBD (cannabidiol, the pain-killing compound found in marijuana) as a form of treatment, but have yet to be able to find an accurate dosage that does anything more than momentarily ease my pain. No, the CBD I’ve tried does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the hallucinogenic compound found in marijuana). Part of the reason why I haven’t tried medical marijuana or THC with CBD is for mainly one reason that affects most chronic pain patients with opioid pain medication: I have a legally binding contract with my primary physician which prevents me from using any other prescription medication (including medical marijuana) while using the opioid my doctor has prescribed me.

While this is what I consider to be personally responsible of me, it does limit my other treatment options. I live in a state where medical marijuana is legal (which makes me lucky), but so many do not. I, like so many others within the community, am now being looked at as a criminal because I take opioid pain medication.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve tried literally everything else I can legally try. It doesn’t seem to matter that I’m not on what is considered to be a high dosage. What matters is the spin that is being put on opioid use. What matters is that there are plenty of physicians and healthcare professionals still insisting that every person who uses opioids becomes addicted immediately. What matters is that pharmacies are starting to deny chronic pain patients access to those medications.

I would love for people to understand that, from my own experience, we aren’t taking our medications because they’re “fun” or to “get high.” We aren’t taking them as a first option usually. We aren’t taking them because they “kill the pain.” For many of us, they don’t. I know they don’t kill my pain. But, what they actually do is give me some small quality of life that is solely based on day-to-day basic functionality. Yes, I still do physical therapy. Yes, I still practice mild yoga. Yes, I still make sure that I’m moving around (I have to because inactivity actually hurts). But, I’m not taking this medication to kill my pain. That would be unrealistic of me to expect.

Thus far, I haven’t seen a single treatment that is effective in treating my pain shy of what I’m already doing combined with my pain medication and even a muscle relaxer before sleep every night. I’m personally becoming more and more concerned that a legal, effective alternative will not be found and, with the constant criminalization of medical marijuana, I don’t know that it ever will.

Fact: Even though almost half of the opioid overdose deaths in this country are caused by an illegal drug (heroin) and those deaths have been labelled a public health emergency, the approximately 224 to 446 million people who suffer from fibromyalgia worldwide have not been grouped into what I believe should be considered a worldwide public health epidemic. Even though there are 10 million with fibromyalgia just within the United States, there is still no national public health epidemic listed under the heading of “fibromyalgia crisis”… and fibro is just one of many chronic-pain-causing illnesses.

I am and will continue to be one of many until something gives.

My question remains: what will it take?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Originally published: November 12, 2017
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