Opioid Epidemic: A Flawed Narrative
There are few things our political tribes in Washington can ever agree. It seems that everything from dog picture twitter accounts to Netflix programming is political these days. In fact, one of the few things our corrupt politicians from both sides of the aisle will agree on is that drugs are bad, and prescription pain relievers are worse.
While the reasons for the plague of addiction occurring are blamed on something different, both sides are pushing the same issue. In what seems an impossible amalgamation I find that both National Review and Democracy Now! both agree that our nation has a severe opioid problem. When is the time these two digital camps agreed on anything?
And as much as I enjoy in partaking of my favorite conservative argument making website, I feel that National Review has missed a very obvious fact that everyone without severe Chronic Pain wants to ignore.
If you get rid of opioids, there will be nothing else left for pain relief. Opioids are currently the only pain relief options out there, Period!
I know, that can’t possibly be, right? Narcotics and opioids are old-timey inventions that have gotten way past their due. Besides, everyone on TV is saying we’ve got a real crisis on our hands.
Well let us break down a few of the arguments:
1. Opioids are Old Timey stuff:
What year did oxycodone, the medication I use for emergencies and immediate analgesic care come about in the U.S. The answer is 1996 (technically it was invented in 1939, but didn’t come to real use until 96)? Tramadol which is a medicine I take regularly didn’t come to mass market til 1977. Buprenorphine which is the primary pharmaceutical in a pain patch I wear didn’t exist before 1981.
Opioid medications are still being invented and being brought to market now. Vivitrol which is a current popular one came out five years ago. Not only are new drugs being developed now but also new ways to deliver them more safely and conveniently.
2. All opioids are obviously strong narcotics like Morphine and heroin!
What I think is probably the biggest reason the current media arguments are making such a dent. People hear opioid narcotic and think 1980s anti-drug cartoon. Yeah, it’s just like on that show House where the good doctor who takes some pills and hallucinates. Apparently, people are trying to get on these drugs for feels and the buzz.
Well, like almost all chemicals and drug compounds; the term opioids only refers to family and classification of drugs. This category does indeed hold the granddaddy of them all: Morphine, but it also contains tens of thousands of others. Tramadol which gives me 0 buzzes and 0 reductions in my ability to perform, drive, speak, and think is an opioid too. While Fentanyl (more on that later) is an opioid, so too is Buprenorphine which again doesn’t give off happy feelings other than pain relief.
3. Addicts are addicted because they either don’t have a problem or they’re using them for pleasure. This pairs well with the Myth: Doctors are easy to fool, and only give this medication to get patients out of their hair:
I used to believe both of these myths before I got Chronic Pancreatitis. The old adage is that there are all of these doctors just prescribing high-end narcotics to patients without much fuss. They, give em out like candied mints. And that if they don’t give them out, the patients are just going to find some other doctor who will.
I almost wish it was true.
The reality is that opioids are not easily given these days; a side effect of all the anti-opioid reporting I’m sure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to fellow CP sufferers who relate to me this story:
“I went to the ER because I was having an intense Chronic Pancreatitis pain attack. I told the doctor this several times as did my significant other. The doctor said my “levels” weren’t elevated enough so I must not be telling the truth. They softly accuse me of drug seeking behavior, and I’m discharged still hurting and overwhelmed.”
Doctors are just as aware of this issue of the opioid epidemic as you and me. They are hesitant to ever prescribe something to someone that might even give an inkling of a chance to cause them legal troubles. Let alone the fact, that most of them got into medicine to help people. While some doctors break this standard, particularly if you are getting some surgery, generally they don’t just hand them out.
This means that when someone like me needs medical care requiring pain medication, which unless the Doctor knows me already, there is little chance of me receiving the medical care I desperately need.
Which brings me back to my original point: there are no alternatives for pain relief. Yes, new drugs are being researched all the time, and medical devices that require no medication to treat pain are in the works. But they aren’t available for mass market use now nor are they going to be for at least another decade.
This means that when we demonize opioids and opioid users, we are saying: I don’t care that your life is a wreck because you are in such constant agony. These medications may be able to provide relief, some balance, and function into your life. But we just can’t take the risk that you might be an addict. Sorry, contact me again when you need another medical treatment demonized.
Opioids aren’t perfect, and many of them have strong side-effects. But no medicine is without side-effects. And being addicted to a medication doesn’t mean that you stop needing it to reduce pain. People like me always have to watch their dosages and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. Pain management is a full-time gig.
And perhaps there is some argument about the overuse of end of life care pain treatments like Fetaynal. But again that medicine is for hospice care or in other words: this is the medicine we give to dying people, so they don’t scream in agony. That medication was never intended for those staying in the land of the living.
And let’s be frank: the only real reason we know people in Washington agree to do anything is that it benefits them first. Individuals who need these medications don’t have the strength or energy to speak up against it. We are too busy trying to hold our lives together to resemble something you consider normalcy. This makes chronic pain sufferers an easy target to blame so as to keep the negative attention off of themselves.
So the next time your favorite political website or writer tells you how terrible the opioid epidemic is, please do something for us. Tell them to shut their trap, and listen to what the people who are having to take these medications daily think of opioids. To most of us, opioids are truly miraculous life savers.