In June 1971, I wasn’t even thought of, much less conceived. In 1971, my mom had yet to have the brilliant idea of taping bows to my head because I didn’t have enough hair to properly tie it. I hadn’t tasted chocolate. I hadn’t spent a Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room getting pills forced down my throat, resulting in a life-long (thus far, anyway) gag reflex with pills.
I hadn’t had a snowball. Or crawfish. Or jumped rope. My only paternal aunt had not taught me to loop clover flowers into a crown, and I had not discovered the joy of dyeing my hair with Kool-Aid.
I hadn’t been born yet. I will be 44 in a couple of months, a number that sounds so incredibly ancient to my 21-year-old self.
Forty-four years old, and the War on Drugs is older than I am. It was June 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs.” Drugs, he said, were “America’s Public Enemy Number One.” In a press conference in 1972, he said that despite the “budge problems,”when it came to fighting drugs, “we cannot have budget cuts.”
It’s a good thing that they declared a War on Drugs. Look how clean our streets, prisons, and schools are.
Despite years–decades, even–of warring against drugs, we have not made a significant dent in the problem. It could be because they’re fighting the symptom of the problem and not the problem itself–addiction–but what do I know? I’m just a part-time writer.
I’d rant about how the perception of drug abuse differs between poor and rich and the nature of the drugs; I’d rant about how we have so many non-violent offenders in our jails and prisons, how we as a nation are obsessed with vengeance and punishment and care very little for justice.
But not today. I just don’t have it in me.
Today, it’s just about opioids and the ridiculous means by which our country is fighting the epidemic of “addicts.”
YES, I GET THAT IT’S AN EPIDEMIC.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 48,000 women alone died of pain reliever overdoses between 1999 and 2010. **
YES, I GET THAT IT’S A PROBLEM THAT NEEDS ADDRESSING.
Last year, I worked on a research project that involved the abuse of opioids in the United States. I discovered a few interesting facts:
- Addicts primarily got them from a family member or friend or bought them off the street
- People moved to prescription opioids when other means of obtaining drugs were lessened, e.g., less heroin becoming more difficult to obtain or meth precursors being restricted
- Prescription addicts were more likely to be heroin addicts
- The rise of the epidemic was helped quite a bit by the drug reps, advising physicians to prescribe them because they were inexpensive, treated pain, and were unlikely to cause addiction
- Treating pain as the “Fifth Vital Sign” assisted this as well**
** Despite my need for documented facts, these are unsourced at the moment. When I come across my research, I’ll be updating this post.**
But now, they are treating opioids as if they have no beneficial properties at all.
They are treating pain as if it weren’t life-threatening, or even life-impacting.
A friend shared this article on Facebook, a list of people who committed suicide due to insufficient or non-existent pain treatment. A few I read included documentation such as the victims’ own comments on social media, things easily accessible by others. I had to stop reading after a few entries; I couldn’t see through my tears.
To those families, I am so, so sorry for your losses.
And I’ve been there.
I have been there, writhing in pain, unable to get out of bed or go to the bathroom in the bathroom. I’ve crawled down the hall on my elbows in an attempt to reach the bathroom because I could not put my foot to the floor or use my hands because they were so inflamed that they burned and would cause a spike of pain that would have me screaming every time they hit something.
I’ve lain in bed, sobbing as the urine soaked the sheets because I had nothing left in me. I was saved from humiliation because I was alone at the time.
I’ve panted with the pain, unable to form words or do anything to lessen it in anyway, despite more ibuprofen and acetaminophen than recommended, despite ice packs and heating pads and hot towels, despite really loud music and chanting and wishing on dandelions and Doctor Who, I could not find relief.
If wishing on dandelions and watching Doctor Who can’t transport you out of your pain, I’m afraid there’s little that can be done.
But something always pulled me back. I remember the pain with lightening clarity, but I don’t remember the turning points. Maybe I fell asleep. Maybe I passed out.
I really don’t know.
What I do know, however, a not-so-secret secret is that opioids help make me functional.
It’s not an every day thing. Most of the time, it’s not even an every week thing.
But when that pain hits, I have no warning. I often have no recourse because I’ve been referred to Pain Management whose idea of responsible treatment of pain is 60 mid-range Norco for a year.
I feel like I’m an addict: “Can I get a lower dose to have more?” I asked him. He said no. He’s afraid of a dependence.
What I want to tell him, but don’t dare, is that I am dependent on them. Just not in the way that he and the CDC and the Veteran’s Administration fears.
I am dependent on them because every so often, I am struck with pain that makes it impossible to live.
To have anything that somewhat resembles a life.
I can’t put on a bra. I can’t brush my teeth. I can’t do much of anything but sit in one place and sob.
Here’s another secret: Opioids don’t make the pain go away. Not for me, anyway. Kinda like the Hulk saying, “I’m always angry,” the truth is, I’m always hurting. Always. Even with Norco.
But opioids specifically do make the pain manageable. When pain spikes, it fills the brain. There is no room for anything else. My house could be burning down around me, and I’d be sitting on the couch, unable to see past the veil of pain to rescue myself and my dogs from the fire.
Pain of that magnitude is immediate, more immediate than even a house fire. It is all-consuming and leaves nothing but tears and exhaustion in its wake.
It’s like stubbing your toe–hard–but that stubbing is one long, long, long event that doesn’t stop. There isn’t a pause. There isn’t a low-grade throbbing afterwards.
When chronic pain patients ask for opioids, we are asking for our lives. We’re not even asking for our pain to be removed.
But we are damn sure asking for more than being told by the “to take an aspirin and tough it out.”
Yes, they were prescribed irresponsibly over the past decade or two, and they should be prescribed responsibly now.
But to be told to “tough it out” by someone who has never experienced that sort of pain, to be treated like an addict for asking for something we KNOW makes our lives better, violates both the common interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath (although, actually not in that oath, apparently) “First, do no harm,” and strips us of of our unalienable right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Without being able to function, we can not live, enjoy liberty, and certainly cannot pursue happiness.
To those people who suffer chronic pain: I stand with you. I hear you. And sometimes, just sometimes, I really feel you.