Prince did not die from pain pills — he died from chronic pain | by Lorraine Berry | 06 May 2016
As the news feed overflows with stories with the word “Prince” and “addiction” in them, very few of them feature the word “chronic pain.”
Multiple reports mention that Prince had suffered from years with pain in his hips due to injuries racked up during his performances. His body wracked with pain, Prince relied on opiate pain medications to provide him some relief.
Prince was not addicted to pain medication.
Prince had a medical condition — chronic pain — which is criminally under-treated. It is also a medical problem that is more likely to be reacted to with stigma and condescension, even challenges about the patient’s moral character, or, if male, masculinity.
Pain is still the condition that we treat by telling its sufferers to just “suck it up,” or “maintain a stiff upper lip,” or to stop acting like a “wuss.” And yet, when someone dies from complications of the disease — for that is what chronic pain is — we react with shock and pity and anger that the person died from a drug overdose.
Some outlets make money off our confusion about overdose and medications and our fascination with drugs.
As early as 2009, reports surfaced that Prince was in chronic, debilitating pain. His friends reported that he was taking pain medication to try to control the constant, excruciating pain from damaged hips.
at least some news outlets report that Prince did have the double hip replacement surgery in 2010.
In medical conditions in which pain has been long-standing, scientific evidence suggests that the brain’s pain receptors “short out.” After a while, regardless of even whether the painful part of the body has been removed — as in amputations — the brain’s pain receptors continue to process signals that the body is under attack.
Phantom limbs can cause severe pain. It does not make the pain fake. It is the brain that feels pain. And the brain can continue to experience pain even after surgery has been performed.
And yet, despite the evidence that Prince was being given Percocet for documented pain, the media narrative has shifted to a story in which Prince died of an overdose.
An overdose is a self-inflicted wound. It’s a moral judgment. That’s how we react to it.
That story allows us to distance ourselves, to see it as the fault of a weak personality, an “addictive” personality.
The idea that the truly gifted are also the ones in the worse psychological pain, and their psychological “weaknesses” make them ripe for drug addiction.
Prince is being pushed toward that precipice over which we have pushed Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jackson and every other artist who has died from drugs in the past century — especially those who succumbed to heroin.
But heroin and pain medication are not the same thing. Undoubtedly, some will gain fame for their discussions of the “abuse” of pain medication.
Chronic pain management requires, in most cases, the taking of strong, often-opiate based medications. ANY patient who takes these drugs on a daily basis will become “physically dependent” in a short time
Physical dependence is not addiction. Diabetics are physically dependent on insulin, and yet we do not call insulin an addictive drug. Without it, diabetics would die. Stopping pain medication that has been used for chronic pain can kill you if it’s done abruptly.
I am not Prince. And yet, I know chronic pain from the inside. And I know how it is treated by cynical doctors who suspect that everyone is just trying to score.
My own experiences in hospital emergency rooms have involved being willing to go through several treatment options before being given the IV opiate medication that I need when I have a cluster headache.
Cluster headaches are nicknamed “suicide headaches” by doctors, for good reason. The pain of cluster headaches has caused me to hallucinate, to have trouble breathing, and, of course, to wish for death.
And yet, in the midst of a cluster headache, or its cousin, migraine, I have been interrogated by emergency room physicians who want to get me to admit that I am faking my symptoms while on a “drug-seeking” mission.
In New York, after all other treatments had failed, I was prescribed opiates.
Yet, when I moved to Florida—which in a moral panic about its reputation as a state where it was easy to score drugs—has passed laws that make it near impossible for a family doctor to prescribe strong pain medications.
Instead, I had to wait nearly two months to get in to see a specialist—in my case, a neurologist, who prescribes what I need.
Triptans, the most common and effective way to treat migraine pain, are also expensive. My insurance company limits my triptans so that I can only use one of my pills for every three headaches I experience.
Opiates are cheap. Guess which one my insurance company prefers to pay for?
Before the media narrative of the tortured genius who abused drugs takes over the story, there needs to be a pushback.
Chronic pain patients should step forward and speak of their own experiences of living with the condition, and the constant barriers that are being thrown up to treatment. The latest obsession with white kids using heroin is stigmatizing those with chronic pain.
Chronic pain kills. It killed Prince. It’s time to talk about it.