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How the Current Handling of the Opioid Crisis Affects People With Chronic Pain

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There is indeed an opioid epidemic happening in the United States. I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that far too many people are being lost to opioid overdose deaths. This is tragic, horrible and must stop. Steps do need to be taken to reign in these senseless deaths.

Where I start to differ is in the seemingly established “solution” that is being used popularly for this tragic problem. You see, I am a pain management patient who takes opioids. Thus, I am a person who is taking the medication legitimately, as it is intended by the doctors and manufacturers of the drug. I have multiple chronic progressive autoimmune diseases. I also have fibromyalgia, arthritis and asthma – all of which leave me in intense chronic pain. Because of all of these illnesses, my pain management doctor of four years has prescribed me opioids, among other drugs, for the problems.

So, I have my own issues with the press on the “opioid epidemic” as it is being called and sensationalized in the press. If we want to combat the actual problems we are having in this country, I believe we need to stop taking the medications away, stop attacking the patients who are taking these medications and instead go after the doctors who prescribe them irresponsibly. The media needs to stop treating these tragedies as headlines.

Let me explain to you how opioids have impacted my life. I am home-bound and have been taking opioids responsibly for four years. I have never run out of my medication before I was due to. I have never taken more of my medication than was prescribed by my doctor. I have never given anyone any of my medication, ever. I do not drive under the influence of my medication. I do not make important decisions while on my medication. This is called responsible opioid use, and yes, it does exist.

Let me explain to you how opioids have also affected my life. I have a family member, whom I love dearly and was my best friend growing up. He is now addicted to drugs and alcohol. The day I cut him out of my life was the day I found him overdosed in my bathroom with a needle in his arm. Had I not found him he would have died. So, I very much know both sides of the opioid coin.

The opioids I am on now are hydromorphone and oxycodone. “Oxy” for short, and as it is often called when it is sold illegally. There is a very specific reason I am on oxycodone. I was forced to switch to it from a safer, less street-sold drug called oxymorphone. You see, the government and drug companies have declared that oxymorphone is too dangerous as it is being sold on the street under fake names. So, forced to stop taking the better oxymorphone medication, the closest available thing besides that was the oxycodone. So, yes, this means the “war on drugs” took a safer, better medicine away from me which instead forced me to take oxycodone. Does this sound to you like the measures we are taking to combat opioid use are working?

We need to stop treating people with drug addictions as criminals and start treating them as the people struggling with an illness that they are. They’re not monsters, they are sick – just like anyone else with an illness. Start getting them help and there will be fewer addiction problems, which will mean less deaths from drugs! Instead of sending them to jail for possession, send them to a treatment program!

Another serious part of this problem is the media. The sensationalized media is not accurately documenting this crisis – as they have a moral imperative to do (that is their actual job!). They report all opioid drug deaths as one number, skewing people’s perceptions. The number of deaths from overdoses are very different numbers indeed when you break them down by the substance they overdosed on. Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, 15,446 were heroin-related, 3,314 were from methadone, 7,663 were from methamphetamines, 10,619 were from cocaine, 14,427 were from natural and semi-synthetic opioids. What this all means is that when they say there were 64,000 overdoses in 2016, they are skewing what you believe and treating the facts the way they want them. Instead, they should be reporting that there were 20,145 deaths related to synthetic opioids (other than methadone) – but most of these deaths are caused by one drug alone: fentanyl. Fentanyl is being obtained illegally by drug dealers, who are then secretely cutting and selling heroin and other drugs with the fentanyl inside it. Doing this skews the data even more, as these overdoses aren’t reported as heroin overdoses (as they actually were), but instead fentanyl ones!

Plus – why crack down on the end users, when you can crack down on the supply instead? Why are you taking legitimate drugs that help people off the market (like my oxymorphone) when instead you could be cracking down on the quack doctors who write tons of bad scripts? Every single doctor that prescribes controlled substances is registered with the DEA. They are all provided an ID number that is used on every controlled substance script that they write. Every script that is filled by their patients is logged, by the ID number, with the DEA when the pharmacy fulfills the order.

Is 20,145 overdoses per year too many? Of course it is. Any preventable death is one too many for me. But, we can go about this in a smarter and better way than we are currently doing and maybe, just maybe, we can stop the problem without needlessly hurting others who need these drugs to live.

Getty Image by luchschen

Originally published: February 26, 2018
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