– With its alarmist and misinformed reporting about opioid addiction, the media is scaring chronic pain patients and their doctors away from opioids.
My worst nightmare is to lose access to the opioid pain medication that allows me to enjoy what’s left of my severely diminished quality of life. Despite all the recent media attention to the illegal use of and addiction to opioids, these medications are literally saving my life.
I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic flaw that causes the body to produce defective connective tissue, which is the “duct tape” that holds the parts of our body together. EDS affects joints, muscles, skin, intestines, and other organs, leading to widespread chronic pain.
I’m dismayed that the media continues to promote irrational fears about opioids, which is scaring pain patients and their doctors away from the proven pain relief opioids can provide. Instead, less effective and more damaging treatments are pushed on us. While the media portrays opioids as an undesirable option for chronic pain and more dangerous than other medications currently prescribed, the opposite is actually true.
Like so many others, I was warned away from opioids and was instead prescribed trials of multiple other medications that can reduce pain perception (Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Neurontin, for example). These drugs have well-known and serious side-effects (intense withdrawal syndromes, confusion, sleepiness, nausea, the worst dizziness of my life), yet they were portrayed as “better” than opioids. When taken as prescribed for pain, opioids don’t have many side effects except constipation – and certainly not euphoria.
Twenty years ago, doctors believed that “nerve blocks” or “epidural injections” would help my pain, so I underwent multiple painful, dangerous, and expensive procedures, all to no avail. By now there’s little evidence of their long-term effectiveness, yet spinal injections are still considered mainline approaches to pain management. The hazards of sticking needles into intricately organized nerve bundles and injecting foreign fluids are barely mentioned, though the slightest mistake can have devastating consequences.
By comparison, taking opioids for pain is much less harmful, dangerous, and expensive. Despite the glaring headlines and media frenzy about opioid addiction, only 3-5%** of legitimate pain patients ever develop this problem. Most stories I read are confusing these relatively few medical cases with the illegal use of pain pills, which is indeed rampant.
The vast majority of addicts are not pain patients (80% of opioid addicts never had a prescription for them), yet all the proposed restrictions will affect mainly legitimate opioid users. After all, we are the ones easy to track because we get our medication from doctors and pharmacies with correct paperwork. Meanwhile, huge amounts of pills are being illegally diverted to the street where they are fueling most of the alarming rise in addiction.
It’s an insult to us pain patients that people can freely chose to self-medicate with alcohol and pills from the street, yet we cannot get our legitimate prescriptions for pain medication filled.
Legislators are seeking to limit a doctor’s right to prescribe this effective medication for their patients who need it, only because some people use it inappropriately to feed an addiction. Our society’s fears of widespread addiction are being exploited and inflamed by the media, distorting this issue so that even the medical establishment seems to be allowing its policies to be influenced by popular opinion.
Why is so little heard from all the legitimate opioid users?
Because they are in pain, often disabled, and always exhausted with barely enough energy to accomplish life’s essential tasks. If they are still functioning, the stigma associated with chronic pain, and especially taking opioids for it, keeps many suffering people silent.
We must counter this tide of misinformation with our own accounts of opioids having rescued us from a life of intractable, death-wish-inducing pain. Sadly, many of us who currently rely on opioids are afraid to publicize it and make waves that could jeopardize our fragile access to these medications. I know I was.