By Liza Zoellick.
Do you ever wonder how many prescription pharmaceutical commercials you see in one day? Not counting advertisements in blogs, digital newspapers and magazines, print newspapers and magazines, television and radio and every other place you might see an ad for medication. I can’t tell you how many, but what I can tell you is that drug makers spent $5.6 billion in 2016, in ads that covered cinema, television, magazine, newspaper, and radio media spending - digital media was not included in these numbers. This number is astonishing and really impacts us and how we see chronic pain and illness because whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are a society that tends to believe that everything can be cured or managed with a pill.
Enter the chronic pain patient. We have done it all and I am not being facetious about this. Many of us have taken a litany of pain meds. Many of us have done alternative pain treatments from physical therapy to acupuncture with very little positive response. Some of us have attempted holistic alternatives to heal what ails us, or to even just control the pain to no avail. There is unfortunately no cookie-cutter way to deal with every chronic pain or illness patient, even if they suffer with the same illness because we are all different. It is frustrating to me when I see and hear chronic pain patients suffering because they can’t get meds. It is frustrating to me when I listen to doctors say that their hands are tied behind their back because of opioid laws. Because who is suffering is people like me and people like you. But millions and millions are paid out to big pharma who purchase spots on television and other ads encouraging doctors to prescribe and treat a certain illness with one of their drugs, and the doctor is not delving any deeper than a series of questions like fill-in-the blank and no one is looking to see what the root cause might be. Even worse, is that there is never a thought to fix us; the only idea out there is to keep us medicated, to keep us coming back and keep big pharma rich.
Until there is something else out there, an answer that makes it easier to treat me and my pain more effectively, I need to take pain meds. I don’t like it and I desperately wish there was something else out there that would make me whole again, but there is not. So, to function, I take opioids daily, 3-4 times a day. I take it despite side effects because it is the only thing that allows me to function. I want those who are lucky enough not to struggle with chronic pain to understand that there is no other choice. None.
If chronic pain/illness weren’t bad enough; if finding a treatment to help us feel moderately better weren’t difficult enough; this constructed crisis with opioids at the root of it has made my life and every other chronic pain patients’ life even harder. Do you remember what it was like in Kindergarten when a few of the more challenging kids did something they weren’t supposed to, and the teacher punished the whole class and you couldn’t go outside? That is how I feel whenever I hear people use the opioid crisis as a blanket argument that includes people like me. I am not the face of the opioid crisis and neither are many of the thousands of people dealing with chronic pain. Yes, there are those with chronic pain who abuse drugs, but much of the epidemic is coming from outside the chronic community. The CDC includes in their numbers statistics whose only correlation is the fact the person took opioids, but not that their death was a direct result of opioid use. As someone recently disclosed to me in an example, I could be out driving (if theoretically I drove anywhere) and if I got into an accident and died, my death would be ruled a death from opioid use simply by my taking opioids. Not because the tests determined I was high. That, to me, is very unfair to include in results that are having such a profound impact on people.
Many chronic pain patients out there choose to remain opioid free and I truly respect them. I, myself, try a combination of opioids and holistic treatment as well as the treatment for my RA which includes Humira. However, I firmly believe there should be choices for chronic pain patients because everyone is different and what might work for me might not work for someone else and to limit a person’s medical options because of a hysteria that is in part construct is inhumane.
Liza is a 43-year old chronic pain warrior from Houston who has been chronicling her journey through chronic pain and illness for eight months now on her blog: https://lovekarmafood.com. She is a contributor to the National Pain Report.