By Suzanne Stewart.
I would like to respond to an article from May 23, 2017; written by Steve Ariens, PharmD, or as we know him, “Pharmacist Steve”. I want to say “YES, Pharmacist Steve, WE ARE Quite Different”! This week I read an article entitled, “A Country of Drug Seekers” (National Pain Report, May 23, 2017). In the article, the author, states that “we should look at those who take/use opiates and controlled substances… and consider those that take them legally and those who take them illegally-because our society will not allow them to obtain them legally, and ask ‘Are they all that different?'”
He goes on to say that “both groups are suffering from depression, anxiety and physical and mental pain.” Also that “both are trying to “improve” their quality of life….just that their own opinion/definition of “improve” may be quite different.”
I will agree that everyone, or the majority of the public want to “improve” their quality of life. That’s a given, isn’t it? Whether you are a pain patient or an airline pilot, most people want to consistently improve the quality of how they live. I vehemently disagree with his assumption “are the two groups all that different?” Nothing is the same about these two groups of people. Persons with chronic illness do not obsessively think about and seek out something to make them “high”. A drug addict has a mental illness, along with an addictive personality; and does exactly that. I’m sure some chronic pain patients also have mental illness, along with some Dr’s, nurses, housewives and Scientists. I believe the number that research had noted was that less than 4% of chronic pain patients actually become “addicted” to their pain medications. In fact a very high profile Pain management physician, Dr. Forrest Tennant, M.D. Cited that percentage in an article at NPR, October 2015. I don’t agree that we “are all suffering from depression, anxiety, physical and mental pain”. The mental anguish that “we”, the pain patients, live with now days; is from the fact of not knowing if or when our treatments/medications will be withdrawn! I would say it is more similar to a patient on dialysis not knowing if or when their dialysis facility is going to close and there’s not another one for hundreds of miles! It may be similar to a Diabetic wondering if their insulin was going to be taken off the market completely? Then how would they live? What would they do? They would be in “mental anguish”. Without pain medications, (*that some of us have been on for many years, doing well, with little or no side effects); how will we be able to tolerate the unrelenting daily struggle with high chronic pain illnesses? Some of which are up to a #43 on the McGill pain scale? There are some people that are living with chronic pain and depression, but we are not all living with pain and mental illnesses. There should not be a stigma, by the way, to living with either or both of these issues.
I also strongly believe that chronic pain patients who sign a contract with their Pain Management physician, agree to take urine drug screening tests and take their medications exactly as prescribed for their legitimate diagnosis’: should not be in the same “category” as those who are “abusing” and “using” illegal substances to get “high”. We, the chronic pain patients are very different in that we don’t all have “addictive” personalities. In fact, at my pain clinic, I went to see a Pain Psychologist and that Dr. told me and actually put it in writing, that I “do NOT have an addictive personality”. I may not be the same as everyone else, but chronic pain patients are not the same as drug abusers who use Heroin and cocaine to get a “HIGH”. We don’t get “high” from our pain medications. I run several support groups for different chronic pain illnesses. I have spoken to many chronic pain patients and I can speak for the majority of those who have been taking opiates for several years. We do not “crave” our pain meds, nor do we think about them all of the time. We don’t sit around and wait for the next round of pain medications and obsessively ruminate about them. Mental “Pain” and mental “illness” are not one in the same either, according to anything that I’ve ever read or heard in my lifetime.
I have made numerous videos on my advocacy YouTube channel and I’ve written several articles on the subject of “pain patients being lumped together with drug addicts”. There is a difference between these two groups of people. Time and time again I am making memes for Social Media, writing on the subject or speaking about it. I’m really growing weary of having to defend my community of chronic pain patients against those in Washington and others with authority over us. When Pharmacist Steve stated that “some groups try to draw a line between themselves as being chronic pain patients and those who abuse opiates.” Well, of course we draw a line between drug seeking behavior, drug addiction and legitimate chronic pain patients who need their medications. Drug addicts live for their next dose or next “high”. While the chronic pain patient needs their next dose of pain relieving medication in order to live. We need pain meds so that we may have some semblance of a life outside of our bed or recliner. There is a “line” between us, it is like comparing “apples to oranges”. How many times do we, the community of legitimate chronic pain patients, have to fight for our dignity and our separateness from stigmas that are put upon us? If you want to “lump us together” with a group of people, why not “lump us together” with other medical conditions in which the patient is “dependent” on their medications? According to Dr. Tennant’s calculations, as a leading expert in pain management; 96% of chronic pain patients do not become addicted to their Opioid pain medications. Those of us who have been on a regular dose for many years and who are doing well, should be left alone! We are dependent just the same as a heart patient is dependent on arrhythmia or high blood pressure medications. The group of people that we have the most in common with are those who take medications for a chronic illness. The kind of medications in which their bodies are “dependent” upon in order to live some kind of “normal”. We, the chronic pain community just want to “live some kind of normal”. We are tired of being grouped or lumped together with illegal users and abusers of drugs. We must remember only two words. These words are “dependence” and “addiction”. They are as different as night and day, black and white and medication user verses drug abuser.
Suzanne has lived with a Systemic CRPS & several other chronic pain illnesses since a MVA in 2002. Prior to being disabled from chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at a hospital & worked with Deaf children. Since 2005, Suzanne’s been a patient Health advocate, support group leader & Mentor. She continues doing these things today, but also does public speaking, awareness events and she’s a Writer/blogger & an Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation.
For entertainment she creates advocacy videos & uplifting ASL cover song videos on You tube and she writes in her own blog Tears Of Truth (Suzydukettes.wordpress.com).