The Rest of the Opioid Story

The Rest of the Opioid Story — Pain News Network – April 04, 2017 – By Roger Chriss, Columnist

Media reports about the opioid crisis in the U.S. are often grim and sensational.

The Economist declares that “states are losing the battle against deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl.” Vox describes the opioid epidemic as “America’s worst drug crisis ever.” And CBS News warns that “opioid dependence can start within just a few days.”

But all this ignores a key point: Opioids are the best pain reliever we have, and they relieve a lot of pain.  

Perhaps there are only 25 million people in chronic pain. That’s still a lot of people — the population of many nations in the world

It’s a population that also includes some of the worst diagnoses imaginable. They include diseases and disorders that rarely get better and often get worse, requiring the patient to live for years or even decades in pain

This is the pain that keeps you awake for days at a stretch because the brain simply cannot disengage. This is the pain that ends careers, shatters families and destroys relationships. 

It is not an achy muscle or a tender joint. Chronic pain is to ordinary pain as a hurricane is to a rain shower.

Opioids make a huge difference in the life of such people. According to The Washington Post, “the vast majority of those who have used strong painkillers for a long period say they work.”

Moreover, opioids are essential to modern healthcare, a reality often ignored by journalists.  

Trauma and battlefield injuries could not be managed without the analgesic effects of opioids. The same is true for tens of thousands of cancer surgeries, organ transplants and hip replacements. And for the neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy or the pain of a sickle-cell crisis. The list goes on and on. Opioids are an invaluable medical resource.

despite enthusiastic media coverage of new drugs, often labeled as promising alternatives for “deadly opioids,” we shouldn’t expect a medication with no risk of abuse or addiction to appear any time soon, assuming that is even possible. And none of this matters if you are facing a major surgery, chemotherapy, or life with a chronic medical disorder right now.

Opioid medications are already here. They work.

Their risks have been amply described in the media with phrases like “highly addictive opioid” or “dangerous opioid,” but never with modifiers like “life-saving” or “function-preserving.”

let’s also not understate the importance of preserving life, of restoring function, and minimizing suffering. In other words, let’s prevent both tragedies

Let opioid medications do what they can do, and make sure they do that and nothing else.

Author: Roger Chriss suffers from Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of the Ehlers-Danlos Society.
Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.
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