I have lived with pain for half of my lifetime and I will live with pain until I die. Living with pain due to an illness, disease or syndrome and utilizing pain medications as a part of my pain treatment does not make me, or others like me, a drug abuser, addict or criminal.
When did it become ok to place all 100 million of people who live with pain in the US, in a group and label them addicts and drug abusers? While I absolutely agree that there is a huge problem regarding drug abuse and addiction; labeling everyone who utilizes pain medications as part of the problem is not the solution.
There are groups and legislators out there trying to get tighter regulations from the state to the national level as an attempt to solve the drug abuse problem. These attempts are not solving the root cause and they ARE causing enormous harm to those of us who live in pain. Their so-called solutions fail to separate the “legitimate pain patients” from those who choose to abuse or sell pain medications. Why is this?
I totally understand the public, government and healthcare professionals concerns regarding the abuse, diversion & selling of prescription pain medications. It is a very serious problem and we must find ways to stop abuse and diversion. I, as most of us who live with pain, understand that there are people out there who totally scam healthcare providers for pain medications and then turn around and abuse that medication. I understand that there are people who doctor shop in order to obtain multiple prescriptions and then sell the medications on the streets for a lot of money.
I also understand that because of the huge problem of abuse/diversion that our healthcare providers have national, state and local law enforcement breathing down their necks to stop writing pain medication prescriptions. It is my impression that law enforcement believes that our healthcare professionals are a major part of the problem–which is far from the truth. Sure, there are some bad apples, healthcare professionals who have gone over to the dark side and write prescriptions (fully aware that it is not a legitimate pain patient) for profit or special favors. These characters are few in comparison and deserve to get caught and treated like the criminals they are.
Yet, please hear me loud and clear!
Most of our healthcare professionals want nothing more than to lessen the suffering of others—they want to help people living with pain reclaim as normal of a life as possible. I, as others, salute and respect each and every healthcare professional out there who are out there doing the right thing and continuing to fight the good fight—for their patients.
Here is the truth that fails to be recognized
The majority of people living with pain required to take pain medications do so appropriately and exactly as their healthcare providers prescribe them. You see, we are too busy just trying to survive each day with some sense of normalcy to misuse/abuse our needed pain medications. Most of us who require medication as part of our pain care know these pain medications are our life-line. They allow us to be able to get out of bed each day and spend time with family, friends. These medications allow us to continue to work, contribute to society and provide for our families. Why in the world would we jeopardize our life-line?
The majority of people living with pain have never been arrested for abuse or diversion of their medications. Their healthcare providers have never had an issue with them failing to follow their provider’s instructions and treatment plan. The majority has never used those well published excuses used by someone who is misusing or abusing such as, “I lost my medications” or “Someone stole my prescription” or my all-time favorite “I dropped them in the toilet”. In fact, do we have a scourge of vet reports about dogs eating opioids? Do we? Not that I have heard.
Pain Patients Treated Like Criminals
Yet, to this very day, people with pain are not treated as just another person with a chronic medical condition. We are treated more like criminals.
We are drug tested–not once but over & over again; some are tested every month. How can a patient and healthcare provider ever build a trusting relationship if the person with pain always has to prove they are not abusing or selling the pain medications? You do not see people with non-pain related illness like, diabetes having to jump through hoops each and every month to refill their needed medications?
When we go to an appointment with our healthcare providers, many people living with pain are embarrassed and humiliated by having to once again provide a sample for drug testing, and let’s not forget that before we can go to the restroom with the little cup for the drug test we are searched, patted down just like law enforcement pats down criminals. If that is not enough humiliation many people with pain must then sit there and watch while our healthcare providers performs a pill count of our medications.
What happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to having a legitimate concern before assuming guilt? What happened to treating patients with respect? How sad it is that once again we find ourselves back in the same place as we were before the turn of the century. The majority of people living with mind-blogging pain must fight to keep their pain tamed down so they can remain or return to being a productive member of society and not be a burden.
Why? All of us are suspect because of:
- The few who do abuse the pain medications and not just pain medications, all kinds of medications including illegal street drugs—they have a drug abuse problem
- The few who are not truly in pain yet wish to scam the provider
- The few who sell their prescription medications for hundreds or thousands of dollars
- The few who are demonstrating criminal acts!
It is these few who we must find a way to stop without causing undue stress, humiliation, shaming and degrading of the legitimate people living with pain.
Finding a Solution
I don’t have all the answers and agree that we must continue to try to come up with ways to stop the ones who choose to abuse and or sell medications for profit. However, while we are trying to find ways to help those with a drug abuse problem and stop those who are criminals, we must not forget that there are more people/patients who take their medications exactly as prescribed and keep the medications locked up and secured to help fight diversion and they would never, ever, ever risk or jeopardize the ability to have the pain medications to help them live with less pain. Can’t we all be part of the solution of stopping prescription drug abuse while remembering to respect the legitimate people living with pain?
Let’s find a way to be a part of the solution by:
- Standing up for the 100 million Americans who live with pain and by learning the difference between addiction and physical dependence.
- Calling law enforcement if you know without a single doubt that a co-worker, neighbor, friend or loved one is lying to obtain that pain medication prescription. You may also be saving their life.
- Safeguarding your medication supply by keeping it secure and out the hands of children, pets and others (it is not meant for).
- Disposing expired and unused medications appropriately
- Taking your medication as directly and report back to your healthcare provider when problems arise.
- Never sharing your medications.
Healthcare professionals can be a huge part of the solution by respecting their legitimate pain patients who have never given them a shred of doubt that they are not compliant and following medical advice to the tee. Registering and routinely checking your state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) can help you monitor any or all of your patients whom you have prescribed controlled medications. Use it! Pharmacists, who are an important part of the pain care team, can be a huge part of the solution by checking the PDMP and any prescription of concern; when in doubt, call the healthcare prescriber to verify the prescription before refusing to fill the prescription. Remember privacy and avoid using interrogation tactics in front of other customers and staff when someone presents a pain medication prescription.
People with pain, like me, deserve the same respect that is given to people who do not live with pain. We deserve to be shown the same legal rights as all others in our society–innocent until proven guilty.
This is what I am: a daughter, sister, aunt, mother, wife, grandmother, friend, colleague, co-worker, advocate, volunteer AND a person who lives with pain.
I am NOT a criminal!
Author’s Note: Apparently I’m not the only one that feels this way. After I wrote this blog, I came across this OpEd from The Boston Globe. Be sure to check it out and comment and help us all raise awareness about this problem.
My chronic pain isn’t a crime by Donald N.S. Unger, The Boston Globe, February 3, 2015