Opioids on This is Us

Opioids on This is Us

By Joanna Mechlinski.

Recently the hit TV show This is Us embarked on a story arc regarding Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) use of opioid painkillers following knee surgery. Kevin continues to pursue prescription refills beyond what he has been allowed, to the point where he is obsessed with getting more pills and embarrasses his girlfriend at a social event. What’s more, he is shown heavily drinking alcohol alongside the pills he takes.

Yes, the United States has declared an opioid crisis. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), opioid overdoses resulted in over 33,000 deaths in 2015 – a figure that’s quadrupled since 1999. Some 100 people die from opioid misuse daily. However, as the CDC also states, the majority of these deaths result from the use of opioids that were not prescribed to the user (many users report obtaining painkillers from friends or family, or on the street).

Joanna Mechlinski

What’s more, “opioid” is an umbrella term for drugs ranging from Vicodin and Tramadol – which can be obtained legally via a doctor’s prescription – to street drugs such as heroin. Needless, people suffering from chronic pain conditions who merely desire a return to functionality greatly dislike being lumped with people seeking a high. These patients are currently being shamed and stigmatized in the news and media, by medical professionals and by much of society in general simply because they need some help functioning. Everywhere we turn, we hear statistics about how many people are dying and what we need to do to stop the drug use. 

Yet legitimate patients are not the problem. With every depiction like the one on This is Us – a show which garners some 10.5M viewers each week, largely among the prized 18- to 49-year-old category – we are hurting people who are already living with chronic pain. Some 100 million Americans live with a chronic pain condition and constitute the vast majority of individuals using prescription opioids. Most users do not become addicted to painkillers; they do not seek more than they absolutely need, and they certainly do not abuse alcohol while doing so. A situation like Kevin’s on This is Us is the exception, not the rule. Yet unless viewers understand the facts, it’s easy for them to misunderstand and believe that everyone who uses painkillers becomes addicted.

Television is powerful. No matter what people may say, the fact is that what we see and hear is stored within the brain, even if subconsciously. We already know that opioid abuse can lead to addiction or death; now it’s time to provide viewers with a glimpse of the other side of the coin, the daily reality of a person who just wants relief from pain and to be a productive member of society? No doubt the reason the show wants to chime in on the opioid crisis isn’t entirely to spread awareness; ratings are likely just as much a goal. Let’s face it, drug addiction creates drama in the character’s life and is more “exciting” viewing than someone quietly taking a painkiller when needed and going about his regular business. But sometimes it’s more important to do the right thing for those who are suffering than the right thing for your career.

Tell NBC and This is Us to stop hurting chronic pain patients…


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Authored by: Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.

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Sheri LaCross


Tim Mason

Don’t they depict alcohol consumption on that show as well? They show just about everything on Television now. That means that kids have access to this programming too. I know movies that come on Netflix have a warning. “This program depicts drug and alcohol abuse” Like the movie with Denzel Washington “Flight” They may be in violation of FCC rules if they did not have this warning.
Hollywood has gone crazy.
I am surprised they still allow advertisements for beer and liquor. Money is power and if you have enough money you can sell anything on TV.
In my opinion the US has turned into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
That earth quake between Iraq and Iran ought to wake a few folks up.


I’ve never watched the show, “This is Us” so I can’t comment on that specifically. But another show I do watch, “General Hospital” has jumped on the “opioid epidemic” band-wagon too…..they only want to talk about the addiction side of the story, not the millions of chronic pain sufferers who don’t abuse their meds…this kind of stuff isn’t about doing a public service,
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RATINGS!!!. Shame on them!!!

sandy auriene sullivan

TV drama could show the devastating ‘drama’ being in pain can be. The stigma, the risks, vulnerability – opportunity to show just what happens to us if *insert situation here* happens.

Medical neglect of a beloved side character – killed by say having medicine stolen, reporting it – getting labeled a ‘drug seeker’ despite telling the truth and being ‘dropped’ cold turkey from their medicine, killing them. [remember the character would be a sympathetic one from the start..]

We pain patients have suffered a lot of drama… that makes for good tv too. Wonder when we’ll see it? If ever?


S H:

Can you please post the hyperlink to where we can post comments to NBC directly?

I searched high and low and could only find access to the actual episode: “The Most Disappointed Man”.

I appreciate your assistance. Thank you!


There is a comment section for NBC directly related to this episode…

Maureen Mollico

Joanna, good to hear from you again. And thank you for bringing light to this subject/show.
I’ve watched This Is Us since its beginning and love it!
What the average person who watches it may not realize or follow is that Kevin has had major emotional/psychological problems since childhood.
His childhood and ultimately his father’s death has him spiraling at this point in his life.
As is the reason for his twin sister Kate’s overeating/obesity issues and brother Randall’s anxiety/pain attack issues.
Their father was an alcoholic. He set their home on fire and died.
I want the public viewing this to know that Kevin is an addict as was his father.
This is portraying the ‘addicts’ life and surely not someone living in chronic physical pain. He is chasing the high to bury his mental pain.
His pain is EMOTIONAL and his knee injury is simply his excuse.
Hopefully the show will depict that true fact and the severity of that as time goes on.
Regardless, yes, maybe a show could represent the life of a CPP one of these days?!
I will surely sign the petition. Thank for it!

Bill H.

Just imagine waking up with severe pain, and going to bed with that same severe pain. Chronic Pain Syndrome is very real, Fibromyalgia is also very real. There are those who find relief with the Lyrica’s, many have had a bad reaction to them with no pain relief. The only relief that many of us get would be from the opiates. We are responsible with our meds, we are quite aware of the side affects, we know about over dosing yet we still take them as the good (being able to function, to have a degree of quality of life) certainly out weighs the bad (pain). My fear is that there has been so much negativity in print, on television, radio that even with writing to the various government “officials”, signing a multitude of group letters has yet to accomplish anything that I can see. Of course I will follow through with this request in hopes that just maybe this may make a difference. I wish I could full grasp the reasons why people want opiates gone, don’t they realize that we are the ones who require them to live, and why the CDC and their ilk purposefully ignored the Chronic Pain patients. If we only had a spokes person similar to what the late Elizabeth Taylor did for AIDS, showing the populous that this is real, here are men and women who have it, they could be your family members, friends, associates. All of this being said, I’m a hopeless optimist, and eventually we will be heard, I just hope it happens before more of us die by our own hand or as Danny pointed out, death with dignity (assisted euthanasia – I prefer that word to suicide). We can only hope.

Kim Gremo

Opioids r a miracle 4 the chriocally I’ll & a nightmare 4 people with addictive personalities. It seems the CDC & media r trying to help possible drug addicts but who is protecting the chronically ill patients who use opioids responsibility?


I never watched this show ..NBC already has Intervention.Drugs Inc and have done specials on opioids . The Chronic pain patients side has never been shown nor is it talked about .
TV gives answers whether they are true answers or not ,doesn’t matter it is all about money. people want answers as to why their loved one’s or friends are so driven by addiction .
I just want to live the rest of my life with relief from pain.

Sheri LaCross

GREAT article Joanne!!

nov,8 2017 never would i have believed that in america would patient be left to suffer in such great pain,that they would have to chose to either kill themself or be like drug addicts to get relief from their life killing great pain,i have been shame based from medical personal,i use to believe these people were in this to heal,i had 4 major surgeries,two neck fusion to help my neck for it was broken,the belief was back then if it didn’t work we could sent you to an pain doctor and they could put you on opioids strong enough to let me live some what a life as an disabled person,now they put narco in the opioid pain medicines for what so drug addict don’t want them,but at the same time,and whats not being told to us is this make’s the rx pain medicine’s(opioid’s)to no effect to an real pain patient who up to two year’s ago was helping,at the same time made me look like an drug seeker because,and i will take an lie detector test to this i’m screaming because my pain level so high,that when i go to my doctor they just shake their head,sorry i want to have some kind of an life,not sitting around trying to fight off killing myself,because that’s the only way i’m going to be out of this pain pain that’s so great i can’t think about or do anything else,again sorry but i have to say you are pain nazi’s,because you are knowing torturing and killing real chronic pain patient.

Christine Sparks

Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to write this and to start the petition. I have started to write letters, comments, etc. and have to stop because I’m overwhelmed with pain. You have spoken for so many of us! All the best to you!

Rochelle Odell

We need to let NBC know stories like this hurt more people than help. Also, contact the advertisers of this show and educate them as well. I don’t watch this show.


A total farce and money grab . Alcohol and Tobacco kill far more people . Its a huge joke where Chronic Pain Patients are left suffering, left with few options when treated less humanely than an animal (after all the vet doesn’t hesitate to prescribe pain medications when my dog shows clear indications of pain) , a human being in enough pain will pursue relief either through illegal methods or through suicide . I fear we will see many more suicides as the majority of Chronic pain patients would never do anything illegal .

Perhaps we should make pain management a practice Vets can take up , since we are already treated less human and more like animals .


Katie Olmstead

It’s like nails on a black board to watch this character abuse pain meds. Yes, I will write to NBC.


Propaganda pure and simple. Feed the myth to the masses and they will swallow it. Hook line and sinker. Here is the truth however. Many many of us the general population have taken opioids, we have had dental work, broken bones, car accidents etc and taken opioids. We didn’t become strung out addicts searching for another script even though the pain was gone. A very very small precentage, maybe prone to that but so small that it needn’t be dramatized on one of TVs most popular shows! I protest profusely!!



My heart breaks. I have loved the show but did not see the episode. I signed the petition, but I think I might be done with the show now.

I have never abused my medications. I have not craved my medications. The medications help me continue to work.

I have friends who give me “well meaning” and unsolicited advice now. It’s exhausting and hurtful to lose the support of friends over an issue that is so, so poorly defined as to be harmful.

Opiods are not bad. People who use opiods are not bad. Using opiods does not mean you’re ABUSING them. Yet, my friends don’t understand this.

The sad part is, as someone who lives with pain 24/7, the support of my friends means a lot to me. It used to be uplifting. Now, at times, it’s almost adversarial! It adds stress and emotional hurt. They mean well… but shows like this are the reason they think they’re doing the right thing.

I could say that I only take the medications when I need them, that I often skip doses, that I’m in touch with my doctor about them, that I understand the risks, that I’m afraid that I won’t be able to continue to work and support myself, that having chronic pain is lonely because people don’t want to hear you “whine” so you try to cope through things alone when social support could help you stay afloat…

… but anything I say anymore doesn’t even get heard. I think that’s the more painful thing – that truly makes it feel like people who mean well don’t care enough to listen. Everybody is over-simplifying this. Opiods bad.

No. I’m truly just trying to do things that most people pretty much take for granted. A “hard day at work” for people without pain is a hard day, yes… but they can’t begin to fathom how pain makes things so much harder. I just try to push on forward… and people who I used to count on are causing me harm. Pain is more isolating than ever.

To people who know folks in chronic pain who profess to care: Stop, be patient, because it can be hard for us to express ourselves. Listen instead of talking for a bit.

Sandie hamilton

I thought what the heck! Why do they do this? And they are making him look and act like a junkie. Propganda! Plain and simple


As a human being having had 40 surgies in my life and being 50 years old and have beaten cancer two times I can personally say it’s wrongful prosecution,I need pain meds to walk and I still can’t walk more than 1300 feet both ways with out falling down from pain , still 75% of the my time is spent in bed trying to be in comfort which opioids help with,I don’t get high from them just a little relief.what the cdc and fda don’t tell you is that death with dignity (assisted suicide )is at 35.000 since this nonsense. Doctors can tell a addict and who’s not.it’s pure Redick.