A great deal of people are uncomfortable with how often I address the “opioid epidemic” and how it hurts people with chronic pain. I think this is because healthy people like to imagine that doctors can fix everything and if something isn’t fixed that it must be the person’s fault. Therefore if someone is in pain they aren’t really being denied treatment for it, they just aren’t trying hard enough. Unfortunately the reality for people with chronic pain is very different. It doesn’t matter if you’re the perfect patient, doctors will no longer prescribe pain medicine.
Even if you’re lucky enough to find a doctor who will treat your pain, good luck getting your insurance to cover your prescription or your pharmacy to fill it. These days a pharmacy can refuse to fill your prescription and then call your doctor and tell them they were wrong to give you this medicine. Opioid hysteria has gotten so severe that now we’re bypassing the judgement of doctors and listening to pharmacists instead. My opinion of doctors has never been high, but they go through years of medical school for a reason. While pharmacists are educated they are not doctors and are not familiar with individual patients. So why are we granting pharmacist’s more power than doctors? Oh yeah, everyone on pain medication is an addict.
Here’s the problem though, the opioid epidemic does not come from prescribed pain medicine or chronic pain patients. In fact 75% of all opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them. Also 90% of addiction starts in the teenage years when teens are also misusing alcohol and hard drugs in addition to pain killers. Have we banned alcohol yet? Because 88,000 people die of alcohol related deaths per year and no one seems to care. Instead we ban pain killers even though less than one percent of those who were well-screened for drug problems developed new addictions during pain care. In other words, people with chronic pain are not the problem and were likely never the problem.
It gets even more ridiculous when we confront the fact that cutting the supply of prescription opioids isn’t even stopping opioid initiation, because addicts are just going straight to heroin. So instead of stopping drug use, people are starting on alternative sources that are much more harmful. When you hear on the news about the opioid epidemic and the opioid crisis and how bad things are in this country because of prescription drugs, they are actually straight up wrong. This is bad journalism. The majority of opioid deaths are due to heroin and illicit Fentanyl.
With all this information available (I got it from government funded studies!) why are the government, the media, doctors, and pharmacies determined to blame overdose deaths on people with chronic pain? I don’t really know for sure, but my guess is that it’s easy. It’s easy to blame people who are hurting when you don’t know what it’s like. Instead of blaming the lack of addiction treatment in this country and dealing with that problem, it’s easier to pretend like people in pain are just fakers looking for a fix. Rather than treating people in pain appropriately and actually finding the cause, it’s easier to pretend that the pain is all in their head or that they’re just not trying hard enough. It’s easy to cut them off of pain medication and then shrug your shoulders when they commit suicide. Because anyone who commits suicide must be an addict, it just couldn’t be because they could no longer live in agonizing pain.
Every day it gets harder and harder for people in pain to receive treatment. Everyone wants to pretend like people in pain don’t exist, but unfortunately for them 11% of Americans live in chronic pain and we are not going away. I personally will not stop addressing this problem until it is fixed.