Demonizing opioids endangers lives too

Op-ed: Demonizing opioids endangers lives, too | The Salt Lake Tribune – By Julieann Selden – Apr 2017 

Another example of the dangers of NOT using opioids to control pain.

Potential opioid benefits are glaringly absent from the campaign billboards and websites.

Extreme pathos warns Utahns to “steer clear of opioids,” suggesting Tylenol and exercise as alternatives.

The rhetoric is guilt-inducing, unrealistic to many situations, and diminishes the credibility of the campaign.  

Ken never wanted to be on pain medication. At 28 with severe back pain, he hesitated to seek medical advice.

Despite natural methods, over-the-counter medications and chiropractors, the pain intensified. An X-ray revealed a baseball-sized sarcoma tumor on his spine. Ken and his oncologist worried about the risks of opioids and settled on a low-dose prescription.

Ken tolerated intense pain due to his addiction concerns.

Shocked that he could even function, a Mayo Clinic oncologist warned that avoiding sufficient intervention brings its own dangers.

Enduring the pain was destructive to Ken’s health, forcing his heart and lungs to overwork.

His elevated heart rate increased his risk for stroke, heart attack and heart failure.

After 24 hours in surgery to remove ribs, vertebrae, nerves and muscle along with his tumor, Ken laid motionless with monitors blaring. World experts in remaining calm, the intensive-care doctors were noticeably alarmed by Ken’s condition.

“His pain levels are too high. If we can’t slow his heart and breathing rate, he’ll go back on a ventilator, which would be difficult to recover from.”

Thankfully, the right drug combination allowed Ken to breathe and communicate again. He overcame emotional and physical trauma as he relearned to move, walk and dress himself.

My husband would have died from pain without opioids.

The same doses that would kill a healthy person were life-saving for him, which is why understanding the risks and benefits of opioids is essential.

Utah culture promotes the harmful endurance of high pain levels.

It’s not just Utah, but the whole country has been hoodwinked into believing opioids are so harmful that it’s better to endure horrific pain.

While many boast “high pain tolerance” or avoid using medications as a “crutch,” I have seen the other side of the opidemic.

Ken’s reluctance to seek pain intervention led to delayed diagnosis and significant heart risks.

I worry about the next parent, sibling, neighbor or friend who experiences worse consequences.

“Toughing it out” could lead to the widespread metastasis of cancer cells, transforming a curable diagnosis into a terminal one.

“Sucking it up” could lead to an unexpected heart attack, when pain and elevated heart rate were preventable with medication.

The increasingly prevalent anti-opioid rhetoric in Utah, while helpful to some, damages others. The addiction concerns are justified but should be balanced with an emphasis on individualized medical care.

Before surgery, Ken’s greatest relief came from chemotherapy, a strategy that no public service announcement could recommend, short of encouraging personalized treatment from medical professionals. Understanding the cause of pain is more relevant than the strict avoidance of opioids.

Doctors and pharmacists confirm that Ken shows no signs of addiction, and his heart health depends on the responsible use of opioids.

As time passes since surgery, Ken gradually decreases his dosage and frequency of medication.

While hopeful that he soon won’t need them, we will always be grateful for the life-saving benefits of opioids.

Author: Julieann Selden is a Ph.D. chemistry student and blogger at Her husband is recently in remission from mesenchymal chondrosarcoma.

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