Only twice in my 30-plus years of living with chronic pain have I had a problem getting my narcotic medication.
The first time a relative lied to a doctor.
I was visiting from out-of-state. The pain was bad. I went to take a codeine pill and realized I had not brought enough with me.
“What if the pain gets out of control?” I cried. “What am I going to do?”
The relative called the doctor who was covering for my regular one.
“She’s ranting and raving about not having her drugs,” she told him.
He believed her. And he refused to write a new prescription. He also wrote in my chart: “Her behavior indicates she may be abusing her drugs.”
My regular doctor told me about the note. He added a larger one: “She has been taking this drug for years. She has never had a problem with it.”
The second episode again involved a doctor other than the one I usually saw.
I came in every 6 months to get my prescriptions, for another medication and for codeine.
“How often do you take the codeine?” he asked.
Not thinking I needed to be cautious I said, “About 3 pills a day.”
“I see your doctor gives you 120. I’m only giving you 90.”
“But three is an average. Some days I need more.”
“No. You said three.”
He didn’t care that it wasn’t enough. He didn’t notice 90 a month did not account for months with 31 days.
Again, my regular doctor took care of it.
“I know you need 120 a month. Just make sure you only see me from now on,” he said.
It was astounding to me that after decades of taking this drug without any problem, I was questioned, disbelieved, and treated as a drug seeker rather than a patient with chronic pain.
I understand narcotics have a way of finding their way onto the streets and into the pockets of bad guys. I get that there are unscrupulous doctors and so-called “clinics” in it only for the money. But don’t presume me guilty. I should not feel humiliated because I asked for what I needed.
A friend asked me, “What happens to those in chronic pain if they can’t get the meds they need?”
I had no answer.
I have not heard of cancer patients being deprived of their pain pills. Diabetics are not told, “You have taken too much insulin this month so no more for you.”
Maybe the issue goes back, not only to the invisibility of pain, but to the subjectivity and concept of pain. Maybe the bias is innate in our health care system.
According to a recent study in The Journal of Pain, the annual cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the annual cost of cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS combined.
But where does the money go? Just one percent of research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is dedicated to pain research. Last year, the NIH spent $396 million on pain research, but $5.6 billion on cancer research.
It is time for the government to realize it can’t have it both ways; with the DEA working to decrease the ability of doctors to give opioid medications to chronic pain patients, while funding for pain research and finding alternatives to opioids remains miniscule compared to other disorders.
Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” Carol was accredited to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where she helped get chronic pain recognized as a disease.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.