Not all pain medication users are addicts. That sentence had to be my first because it is a truth that is not well represented. The media have chosen to tell you ever more frightening tales about prescription pill abuse without letting you know about us - the responsible users. Opioids, narcotics, barbiturates, muscle relaxers, corticosteroids or tricyclics are a part of our daily medication regimen, but we aren’t looking to get high.
I certainly don’t deny that there is a major problem with prescription drug abuse in this country.
Pain reduction can be intensely pleasurable, even intoxicating, especially if you’re hurting. Many famous figures and regular upstanding citizens have fallen victim to the grip of addiction; some have died because of overdoses.
And then there’s everyone else. Endometriosis or migraine sufferers, those with misfiring nervous systems and cancer survivors are just a fraction of those who take prescription pills simply because we experience intense levels of pain.
We obtain our prescriptions from legitimate doctors. We follow guidelines to ensure we don’t overdose. We understand rebound pain. We pay our pharmacies. We would give anything to no longer suffer from chronic pain, and thus to no longer need medication.
And our conscientious use of pain medication actually benefits everyone else.
Pain medication keeps us out of the emergency room so it’s less busy when you need it. Maybe you’ve broken a bone. Perhaps your child has a high fever. You might have chest pains or a terrible cough. Emergency rooms are very busy and you will probably wait for hours before you are seen, but at least we’re not there. We’re at home.
If our pain has gotten so bad that we cannot see straight, if our pain causes our heart rates to spike and our blood pressure to drop, if our pain means we either call an ambulance, or take a pill - we take a pill. Pain medication lets us take care of ourselves so others don’t have to.
Pills make living an option. Suicide rates for those who suffer from chronic pain, while understudied, are undeniably high. Some medical studies show rates at two times that of the general public.
At a certain point, our pain can be so acute and persistent that no amount of alternative medicine, psychological care, or loving friends and family members can outweigh the maddening effects of pain. Finding a medication that works, even just a little, can make us feel it’s worth pushing on.
The red tape, forms and rules around pain medication are becoming a hazard for the responsible user.
Doctors have become sheriffs, counting and doubting each pill popped, questioning us as we writhe in pain. Pharmacies keep logs of who fills what opioid where and when, swiping our IDs as we cower at the counter under wary glances. Emergency rooms delay dispensing our medications for fear of accidentally feeding an addict. All of these shaming measures - and more to come - just to try and prevent people from using pain medicines recreationally.
There is nothing recreational about our pain. It is a monster that we try to cage using every possible method. Sometimes pain medication helps. We don’t want people to die of opioid overdoses. What we want is reliable access to therapies, including pain medication. Please understand that we are the majority.
Nicole Hussey suffers from chronic pain and lives in Los Angeles.