By Paul Gileno-Founder & President US Pain Foundation
As a person with pain and President of U.S. Pain Foundation, I have been disheartened by the recent barrage of ignorant comments from the media and those in government regarding the pain community. From the harming labels of “junkies” and “addicts” to the notion that limiting pain medication to legitimate patients will cease the opioid epidemic, I am appalled at how society is dehumanizing and judging a quarter of our population. This type of rhetoric is only causing more pain and stigmatization of people with pain and disabilities. A solution will not be found unless all stakeholders are included in the conversation.
Being the leading patient-centric organization, U.S. Pain Foundation prides itself on helping individuals find resources and inspiration. We focus our efforts on creating initiatives and programs that will have a direct benefit to the pain warrior. Ensuring people with pain are heard, we make it a goal to create pain awareness by breaking down barriers and advocating for change. U.S. Pain exists to offer hope, present information, share stories and honor those whose lives have been affected by pain.
Unfortunately, due to the scrutiny surrounding pain medication and addiction in America, U.S. Pain has found itself fighting a different battle: public perception and the complete lack of regard and concern for those suffering. Instead of using our energy to promote empowerment, education and hope, as an organization, we have been forced to defend the patient voice. To make sure people with pain have options and are heard.
Let me be clear: I have no issue speaking out against how unjust it is to deny legitimate people living with pain access to the treatments their providers deem beneficial for them. I founded U.S. Pain to give those like myself – people with pain – a voice and a purpose. I will not rest until every person has access to all types of treatment care, and is no longer being discriminated against. That is my vow, and I will not waver. However, in 2016 we are still shaming people with disabilities, and it appears we are far from having a positive, proactive, bipartisan conversation regarding pain care in America, chronic pain and addiction.
There has been tremendous backlash since an ad aired during the Super Bowl on opioid-induced constipation (OIC). Instead of being seen as a tool to help people with pain on their journey, it is being used as a political witch-hunt. In just two weeks, comedians and politicians have used this forum for a punchline or to gain political points. All at the expense of the chronic pain community. Sadly, little focus has been centered on the pandemic of chronic pain, and how to help people suffering with debilitating pain and illness.
That is why I wasn’t sure what to expect when President Obama spoke Monday on the opioid abuse epidemic. I held my breath fearful of further stigmatization. Much to my surprise, the President rebutted the governors’ proposal to limit painkiller prescriptions, stating, ““If we go to doctors right now and say ‘Don’t overprescribe’ without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we’re not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real.”
This is what the pain community needed our Commander In Chief to say. This is what the public needed to hear, and this is hopefully what will ensure the patient voice is part of the solution moving forward.
To President Obama, I thank you for making sure the patient voice is heard. I applaud you on your commitment to put patients before politics. I believe working in conjunction with patients, advocates, health care providers, politicians, pharmacists and law enforcement agencies, we can mitigate both the issue of addiction and chronic pain.