I am: An Un-Apologetic Opioid Patient

I take opioids. I have been taking them now for almost 4yrs. Opioids don’t eliminate my pain completely, and there are some days that I still can’t function, but they have allowed me some semblance of a life. I can not emphasize semblance, strongly enough. My world absolutely changed when I began experiencing pain and the symptoms of my chronic illness, that I did not know at the time. I pushed myself through it brutally, until I couldn’t do that anymore either.

Before I became sick and plagued by pain, I was an active mother and student, trying to finish my degree at the University of Houston. I loved yoga and while I still practice, it is very cautiously and with different expectations than what I do now. My dream was to continue school and either get a Master’s or a certification that would allow me to work in public health. I love contagious disease. That sounds grim, I know, but it was a passion of mine to be able to protect people from unseen killers, of endemic diseases. I wanted to protect my community. I never got to finish school, one class shy of a degree, because my health hasn’t been very cooperative and my pain makes it difficult to focus.

I take opioids regularly throughout the day in order to blog and participate in my family without the pain preventing me from enjoying life. I still need help with every aspect of my life, and without my children and husband there to assist, I am not certain what kind of life I might be living. It’s easier asking my children for help now, but when they were younger, I often didn’t and pushed through the pain which would leave me useless for days. How do you ask children who are in trying to juggle a full-time job and college courses, or high school classes which include dual-credit, to take time out to help you with chores that are your responsibility? As a mother, you want them to excel and do better than you did and while having them do their own chores like: cleaning their room or cleaning their bathroom and doing their laundry is acceptable, things like: taking me to doctors appointments because I can’t drive, or making dinner because I can’t, or picking up and taking siblings here and there because again, I can’t drive, make you feel guilty. I didn’t have children so they could take care of me. My chronic pain took away some aspects of motherhood, and also took away some aspects of my kids’ childhood.

I’ve taken other pain medications. A whole bunch that I either didn’t tolerate in some fashion or simply didn’t work as well as the opioids. Do I want to take opioids? Not especially. I take a lot of medication. I often worry about the effect these medicines are having on my liver. After taking them for nearly 4yrs., I also know their effectiveness is beginning to wane. They are just not doing what they used to which leaves me in pain again, more often than when I first began taking them. This, of course, makes me wonder what next? What drug will they eventually try that will also wane too after a few years? But the flip side, the person still dwelling within me who wants to experience as much life as I possibly can and enjoy it without being in crippling pain, doesn’t care. Whatever the next opioid may be, I will try it because to not take these drugs means to give up and die. I’m not ready yet. Sorry.

Which brings me to this opioid war. I get it. I get that people have lost loved ones and I understand how tragic and senseless it is. What I do not understand and what I read and hear time, and time again, is how opioids should be abolished. But which opioids exactly? This is the blurry line which is affecting all pain patients and which angers me. For example this quote from CBS News: “Approximately three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths are now caused by opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and potent synthetic versions like fentanyl.” [https://www.cbsnews.com/news/opioids-drug-overdose-killed-more-americans-last-year-than-the-vietnam-war/] You see information like this and the average reader is only seeing the first part: three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths are being caused by opioids. Lost in this message is the latter part, explaining that these drugs include prescriptions, heroin and synthetic versions like fentanyl. Neither do you hear things like: Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are the main driver of drug overdose deaths, making up more than 28,000 of opioid-related deaths in 2017.” And then even less are you hearing this: “Opioid prescribing has also been on the decline since 2010 and the number of prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies is at a 15-year low, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” [1]

These missing parts are an incredibly important part of the bigger picture. The bigger picture which includes patients who are suffering and needlessly dying because they aren’t receiving adequate pain treatment. We’ve gone from a period back in the 90’s which (and no one argues this), people were being over-prescribed opioids, to a period now, on the opposite of the spectrum, where people are being under-prescribed. Both sides of these extremes have consequences and we are seeing them now, in the preventable deaths of patients who were under-prescribed pain medication. You are hearing about cancer patients being denied morphine, until their final weeks after terrible suffering before their deaths. [2][3]

You are also hearing about post-surgical patients being given only Tylenol for hip replacement surgeries, despite the amount of pain afterwards. I’ve had total left hip replacement and I can’t imagine being able to do the required physical therapy without the opioids I was given, and the unnecessary suffering truly boggles my mind. [4]

I say you are hearing and seeing this information, but the truth of the matter is that you aren’t hearing or seeing about it as much as you should be and because of that, chronic pain patients are suffering out there. People in my community are dying because of the lack of information and the mis-information regarding opioids. Every time I am on social media, I will find articles being discussed about deaths caused by opioids. Just skimming through comments, I will read things like: It’s big pharma’s fault, all they care about is money; There’s a lack of morality within society when kids are dying from opioids and they continue to be doled out; Opioids need to be abolished; There wouldn’t be addicts if the drug was taken away. Comments like these, make my heart sink because of the black and white nature with which this Opioid Hysteria is being viewed. Opioids are not the enemy. Patients who need these drugs are not the addicts (though admittedly, a small percentage from this group do become addicts) and people who need these drugs are dying, because doctors are being criminalized for prescribing them, losing their jobs and making it more and more difficult for pain patients to be treated. The world had gone crazy and those suffering are being made to suffer more.

I am a pain patient. I take opioids and I’m un-apologetic about taking them. I’ll also continue to fight for those who may not be able to themselves, to end the needless deaths and suffering which have become the cost to this ridiculous war waged on opioids.

 

[1] https://www.superiortelegram.com/news/government-and-politics/4574090-advocate-opioid-crackdown-had-chilling-effect-those-chronic

 

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-cancer-idUSKCN1PP26X

 

[3] https://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/6033839-151/opioid-limits-hit-hospice-cancer-patients

 

[4] https://www.acsh.org/news/2019/03/13/oral-and-iv-tylenol-work-equally-well-hip-replacement-pain-do-they-work-all-13877

 

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