It’s not an “Opioid” Crisis

I suffer from a few different chronic illnesses that cause constant pain. I work with my internist and rheumatologist to control the pain. Although I have two opioid prescriptions, I normally do not take them. I don’t like the way the pills make me feel and avoid them until absolutely necessary.

Opioids come with a myriad of side effects, including stomach issues, brain fog, and malaise. I can see the difference in me just looking in the mirror. At times, I must adhere to those consequences and take a pill because I can’t stand the pain. It may be a flare one week that causes me to grab a hydrocodone, or specific area acting up that will put me on tramadol for a week.

Since the new guidelines of the opioid crisis have appeared, I have signed a pain contract with my doctor, who knows I don’t take the painkillers any more than needed. I am luckier than most. I constantly see people on my autoimmune support groups who can’t get any.

My usual plan changed when I was dealing with severe back and hip pain from a complicated spine condition. Before and after major surgery that involved nerve roots, I increased my opioid use, as well as adding muscle relaxers and Lyrica, a nerve medication.

I was on opioids for a total of seven weeks straight. This included two and a half weeks of a fentanyl patch, hydrocodone, and tramadol. For the first week after surgery, even that combination didn’t cover a lot of my pain.

Guess what? I didn’t become an addict. I controlled my pain and weaned off, keeping track of every pill I took. I am now in recovery from my surgery, taking only an occasional (once in the last week) opioid for a painful day.

The author before and after taking steady opioids. “I can see the difference in me just looking in the mirror.”

The point is that today’s society is not separating addicts from an opioid crisis. We have forgotten those really in pain and those really in need of relief. Or, those getting doctor supervised prescriptions at the pharmacy from those getting fentanyl (which may be laced with an additional drug) on the street.

Yes, there were some doctors out there over-prescribing, but we’ve pretty much stopped that and aren’t letting the rest of the physicians do what’s best for their patients.

Everyone does forget the heroin crisis, the cocaine crisis, the methamphetamine crisis. Or, how about the alcohol crisis that brought on prohibition?

This country does not have an “opioid” crisis, we have a crisis of addiction and mental illness.

During prohibition, people getting and making alcohol fell into two categories: those looking to enjoy a drink or two and those who were addicted. Among the addicted, some made or obtained illegal alcohol, while others switched to another substance. Alcohol came back legally and those groups of people still exist.

CVS Caremark is one who offered the ultimate in hypocritical by announcing this policy: “Limiting to seven days the supply of opioids dispensed for certain acute prescriptions; Limiting the daily dosage of opioids dispensed based on the strength of the opioid; Requiring the use of immediate-release formulations of opioids before extended-release opioids are dispensed.”

No control is given to the CVS alcohol aisle, available in states where it is legal. If an alcoholic wants to buy eight days’ worth of vodka, no one will stop him.

The big difference here? There is no medical reason someone needs alcohol, yet it is a drug of addiction readily available. Millions of people have chronic pain, and their opioids are being limited, and sometimes, completely taken away. These people are suffering, and the number of them dying of pain is increasing.

This article in The New York Times is just one of many about the suicides that have resulted from those who are suddenly deprived pain medication they need. Among those in peril are veterans, who sustained permanent injuries serving our country.

Even more scary is the fact that taking away doctor monitored legal drugs is driving addicts to purchasing the street, where the drugs are much more lethal.

Only addicts enjoy taking opioids. Only people who are mentally ill self-medicate their feelings with opioids. People in pain take them when they need to take away their pain — and nothing else has worked. We try heat, ice, CBD, physical therapy, biofeedback, diet changes, rest, and anything suggested as a possible relief of pain that doesn’t have the side effects of opioids. So, why are the chronically ill being punished?

The First Lady is out promoting our horrible opioid crisis. Just like her bullying problem, which starts at home, she is missing the whole point.

A war on opioids is useless. What this country needs is more help for those with the disease of addiction, as well as mentally ill who are self-medicating. Until that is done, we are going to get nowhere by eliminating another drug. And, we need to stop punishing those in severe pain.

If we don’t deal with the real issues, the next “(fill in the blank) crisis” will just be around the corner.

A lifestyle journalist who was forced to slow down tennis, travel, food & wine coverage when chronic illness changed her life & career.

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