How do you feel about letting politicians decide if you should be able to take the pain medication that works for you? What if they told you your pain isn’t bad enough? Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California introduced federal legislation which would prevent those of us who do not have “severe pain such as late-stage cancer” to have access to OxyContin and other opioid drugs. As she puts it, “OxyContin is a powerful and dangerous narcotic drug, which has an insidious ability to turn children into addicts.”
Excuse me, but how do you accurately measure pain in a person? It’s not like taking someone's temperature or blood pressure and a number pops up. I am not belittling those who suffer from cancer, but there are many other diseases and conditions which can cause life-altering pain. Opioid medications can greatly improve life for these people and enable them to be contributing members of society.
I am one of those people, a chronic pain sufferer who is trying to do the best I can. I do not have cancer nor am I nearing end of life (at least, I hope not!). In the primary onset of my genetic illness it was so painful that I became depressed, stopped eating and became anorexic, and my existence was limited to being curled in the fetal position in my recliner. Being put on my medication by the National Institutes of Health Palliative Care Team gave me back a chance to have a life. Although my husband was at first upset about me being on an opioid medication, after three days of watching me and seeing how my whole demeanor changed, he said, “It’s like having my real wife back again.” You can read how I manage my pain (and it's with more than just pills) by going HERE and if you click THIS link and scroll down, you can find posts about my personal story.
How can politicians believe they possess the knowledge to make a determination on whether I am allowed to have the medication which helps me so much? How can they think it is a good thing stop my doctor from evaluating me and the two of us deciding together what is the best treatment?
Legitimate pain patients such as myself are already feeling like we are considered with suspicion and mistrust by doctors. Some of us, particularly in Florida and Washington, are already being cut off from meds we need. I know there are a lot of links here, but you really, really need to at least take a peek at these articles. You need to know what’s coming our way:
~Washington's new pain-management law makes it so difficult for doctors to treat pain that many have stopped trying, leaving legions of patients without life-enabling medication
~Painkiller Access Debated as Patients Suffer
Many different drugs can kill you if used improperly. If you follow the dosage as prescribed and you do not mix them with alcohol or other legal or illegal drugs, then you will be safe. Your doctor should already have a list of what other medications and supplements you take daily, and you should know what occasional drugs are safe to take i.e. for allergies or a cough. If you are in doubt, you don’t take it until you can confirm with your doctor or a pharmacist that it is not a dangerous combination. For more advice on this read my post Protect Yourself from Your Own Medications and Medication Safety: Prevent Drug Interactions (part two). To be further responsible, keep your opioids inaccessible to others, even the members of your family. I myself use a safe; that will definitely keep your pills from becoming part of the problem in society.
There has been so much media outrage over the deaths of celebrities like Heath Ledger and Whitney Houston; I do not know the actual statistics for all drug deaths, but I would venture to say those who die from prescription drug abuse do not use their medications as prescribed or they mix them in hazardous combinations. But even if the pills hadn’t been available to them, it wouldn’t matter. They would have used other substances, as addicts do.
Sadly, all those teenagers that Mary Bono Mack talks about abusing pills may likely do the same as those celebrities. It’s not just opioid pain medications which can be abused; all kinds of medications from Ritalin to cough syrup are misused. Of course, there are many other easy-to-get items you can get high from (and possibly die from) like huffing spray paint, using salvia herb, sniffing rubber cement, inhaling whippets (nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans), breathing paint thinner, and lately in the news we’ve heard about kids drinking hand sanitizer - even using basic chemistry to try to extract as much alcohol as possible.
There is no way to legislate behavior! You cannot keep people from doing stupid and dangerous things if they want to badly enough. Those who seek escapism from reality will find a way to do it, whether it’s the choking game, smoking pot, drinking alcohol, or stealing pills which are left accessible to them in the home. Where there’s money to be made, whether by getting pills illegally on the street or through the internet, we all know it’s the unavoidable truth: there are always those who are willing to take deadly risks in order to feel high or to feel nothing.
However, we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. There is always a good side and a bad side to everything in life - it’s all in how you use it. Look what is happening right now in Canada. On March 1, OxyContin was completely banned, in response to all the anguish over people getting addicted. Just over a month later, I found this article online: “Heists, overdoses rise after Canada bans painkiller.”
Five days later, I found another article from a Canadian paper directly speaking to my concern: “Summit hears calls for new pain strategy: Patient groups say tens of thousands suffer in agony”
In this article, it says, “...waiting times for pain care in Canada grow longer by the day... Many patients who need opioids to help control pain can't find a family doctor willing to treat them... Even children are suffering under-treated and poorly managed pain.... Those living with chronic pain experience stigma, discrimination and the ‘shame of pain, when we are labelled as complainers, malingerers and drug seekers,’ (said Lynn Cooper, president of the Canadian Pain Coalition)... ‘Canada as a developed country has a moral imperative to do better than this.’”
To Mary Bono Mack and all other politicians out there who want to try to tell us how much pain we are feeling and dictate to our doctors what medications are allowed to be used: take a look at Canada.
Here in the United States, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report commissioned by Congress found that “116 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and are inadequately treated.”
From this article:
“...the majority of people with pain use their prescription drugs properly, are not a source of misuse, and should not be stigmatized or denied access because of the misdeeds or carelessness of others... Ironically, while many people with pain have difficulty obtaining opioid medications, nonmedical users appear to obtain them far too easily.”
“Pain patients have long been viewed with skepticism and suspicion, rather than understanding, presenting a barrier to care. Rising rates of prescription drug misuse, addiction and overdose have further led to the establishment of legal and regulatory barriers, such as prescription databases, that can prevent even legitimate pain patients from getting much-needed drugs.”
“Making matters worse is the media and political attention that has been devoted to painkiller abuse and addiction. Conversely, very little attention is given to chronic pain, which affects a far greater number of people. About 9.3% of the population has drug or alcohol problems serious enough to require treatment, while severe chronic pain affects at least one in three Americans.”
As a pain patient, I feel like we are being punished for just trying to live our lives. When I look at how serious the situation is for those of us living in Washington state, I get really scared. When I see what’s happening in Canada, I worry it could happen here. When I see legislation pending like Mack’s bill in Congress, I fear we will be sacrificed because of those who can’t control or do not want to control their behavior. I’m frightened of having our pain levels judged and being told we don’t suffer enough.
It’s awful to hear about people, particularly teens, who overdose. However, making a sweeping decision that opioids are “bad” and then blocking them from thousands of patients who use them legitimately, safely, and with great success is only going to make the situation worse. Where is the compassion for us?
CALL TO ACTION:
CALL TO ACTION:
You can track the progress of this bill in Congress. From that page, you can also send your opinion to Rep. Mary Bono Mack.