4 myths about being on opioids for chronic pain

4 myths about being on opioids for chronic pain

Nearly ever day there is a news article inciting panic and referring to the “opioid epidemic” and how people are dying from prescription pain medication in larger and larger numbers. This means that doctors are out of control in prescribing opioids, they need to stop now! Only people with cancer should get pain medication otherwise we’re all going to get addicted and die! People who are “in pain” are just druggies scamming the system!

The problem is, this isn’t actually true. Yes people are still dying from “opioids” (a generic term that also includes illegal heroin and Fentanyl), but deaths from pain pills are actually going down. Additionally, as anyone who was previously prescribed opioids for their chronic pain can tell you, prescriptions for pain medication have significantly decreased. So what else does the media get wrong about opioids for chronic pain?

Myth #1- If you need opioids to function you’re actually an addict

There is a significant difference between addiction and dependence. Addiction involves compulsive cravings, inability to control use, and use despite potential harm and self destructive behavior. Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes used to the presence of a drug. Many substances – such as sugar and anti-depressants can cause physical dependence, and yet people who use these substances are not accused of being addicts. Should we punish all the people on antidepressants by taking away their medication cold turkey and watch them suffer while we pat ourselves on the back and tell them it’s for their own good? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to suggest that this would be cruel and bad for people’s health. Yet this is what’s happening to chronic pain patients and no one seems to care, even when these patients get so desperate they turn to suicide.

Myth #2- There are better alternatives than opioids to treat severe pain

The CDC has helpfully suggested that people in pain try taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) as if no one had ever thought of that before. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say since Tylenol isn’t even powerful enough to handle a headache it’s probably not going to help with chronic pain. Of course, that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried it in desperation. I’ve gone as high as 6 Tylenol at a time and not only is that not safe (Acetaminophen can cause liver damage), it didn’t even sort of work. Other suggestions put forth are:

  • physical therapy- not covered by insurance
  • weight loss – because you deserve to be in pain you fatty
  • physiological therapies – not covered by insurance, and ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
  • antidepressants – because people in pain are just need to to be happier

and so on…

people in pain don't take opioids to get high, they take them so they can try to live as normal a life as possible

Myth #3 – People only use painkillers to get high

My personal experience is that I have no idea why anyone would take opioids to get high because they make me feel terrible. Only complete desperation leads me to take pain medication. It makes me feel woozy and tired, but at the same time it prevents me from getting quality sleep. I hate the way it makes me feel, and it only takes a quick google search to see that I’m not alone.

People in pain don’t take opioids to get high, they take them so they can try to live as normal a life as possible. They take them so they can be a functioning parent, so they can be gainfully employed, so they can take care of their home, and so they can exercise like their doctor keeps pressuring them to (according to doctors it’s all mind over matter when it comes to being in too much pain to exercise).

Myth #4- It’s easy to find a doctor that will hand out opioids like candy

The current hysteria over the “opioid epidemic” has led to doctors being told and even threatened into not prescribing opioids no matter how legitimate the patient. Because of this prescriptions for opioids are rapidly falling and the majority of “opioid deaths” are now caused by illegal Fentanyl. It turns out that when doctors cut access to opioids pain patients are out of luck, and addicts turn to illegal drugs.

I am constantly mystified that very few people care about what is happening to chronic pain patients in this country. How many people have to be forced into a life of crippling pain and the poverty that comes with it? How many people have to kill themselves to get the nation’s attention? Pain patients have been left alone both in their fight and their pain, and we as a country should be ashamed.

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9 thoughts on “4 myths about being on opioids for chronic pain

  1. My 94 year old mum is on morphine or tremadol she is too old and frail to have operations to fix the problemday. It is lower doses strictly monitorEd by Dr and given by my sister. She would be bed bound or in hospital which is only short term option due to overcrowding.
    Here people and mediCal people are more worried about resistant antibiotics.

  2. I am Louisiana also and I have been seeing pain management for 5 yrs. I have been on hydrocodone 10mg for 4 yrs. I don’t need anything stronger to be able to function. I get frustrated with the stigmas I get from people. I have autoimmune hepatitis, psoriatic arthritis which is more arthritis than psoriasis, and DDD with 9 rupture discs! I am a RN so when I have random drug test for work I get the “look” when I explain. I have to have my hydrocone (can’t have Tylenol)made by speciality pharmacy at which insurance does not pay plus insurance does not pay for drug test that is required by pain manament. I go thru all these hassels so I can function, work full time and wish people would realized that all opioid users are not addicted. As far as canaboids, with the state board of nursing, idk if I will be ever able to try it. I am curious how nurses deal with it in legal states and does state board of nursing allows if RX! Sorry so long!
    Thanks for blog!

  3. Thanks for a well written, truth telling article. Friends and family alike are “shocked” to hear that I am functioning on opioids. I have had fibromyalgia for over 20 years and arthritis in multiple joints. Add to that, spinal stenosis and arthritis in my lower back. Suggestions are always forthcoming for alternatives: lose weight, exercise, take a walk, meditate, therapy, use Tylenol/Motrin/Aleve. Unless you are a pain sufferer, you have no idea what your suggestions are worth. Newsflash! The opioids don’t take away all my pain! They simply make movement bearable. I’m not stoned from the medication. I’m functioning with it. It ain’t for sissies naysayers. Those of us who suffer usually do it in silence. The population who brings opioids to the dark side have made it very difficult for the population that requires opioids to live in a world where you are looked down upon for not being able to buck it up and not be considered to be a “pill popper.”
    Thanks again for the article.

  4. I live in PA and see a neurologist in MD where medical cannabis is legal. My insuranxe covers it. I’ve never had a muscle relaxer that works but cannabis does. I’m a firm believer.
    Thank you for a wonderful article! You hit the nail on the head!

  5. I have found a compound that works really well. It may be covered by some insurance carriers, my old insurance did but Medicare does not cover it. It Low Dose Naltrexone, LDN for short, my rheumatologist very happy to give it to me. Do your research, it has no side effects, doesn’t interfere with other medications than opioids when you get built up to the recommended does of 4.5 – 5 mgs, so you start out at .5 mg and increase every month or two until you get to a dose that works for you. It took me between 8 and 9 months, the beginning was a little rough but I’ve reach my optimal dose of 4.5mgs which is what works for me. I have also have had fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, sjogrens just to name a few for the last 18 years and this is by far the best I have felt in a very long time. You might look at CBD oil, which is legal in all 50 states, it doesn’t have the THC which played havoc with my other Meds. I hope this is of some help to someone out there.

  6. Actually, the entity that is to blame for someone’s addiction is NOT the Drs, the insurance companies or the government(even though they should stay out of the Drs office), the one to blame for ones addiction is ones self. I’m sorry, but an addict can choose to get help(rehab) and then move on with their life. Severely ill people with severe pain cannot go to “rehab”, become sober and move on with their life.
    Seriously ill patients, you know-the people these medications were actually intended for, cannot move on, severe illness and intractable chronic pain IS their lives. These medications allow us some semblance of a normal life. But people that didn’t need them but decided to take them just for the hell of it and got seriously addicted and/or died, well, they have caused sick people a ton of anguish, more pain and even death.
    We need to stop blaming other poeple or entities for a problem that one brought upon oneself. Addicts need to step up and take responsibility for their own actions. No Dr “forced” pills down anyone’s throat, period. That decision was a choice they made.

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