A Warning About Your Pain Meds

Danger Sign in Front of Sea

At first glance, you might wonder why I’m linking to a news article from Des Moines, Iowa, about a man accused of rape who decided at the last minute pre-trial to fire himself as his own lawyer. What the heck does the right to represent oneself have to do with chronic pain?

I’ll show you. It has to do with his victim. And if you skimmed the article, as most of us do, you’d easily miss it:

Friday’s events provided another twist in the case, which has been unusual in almost every aspect. Hays is accused of entering the home of his friend [Victim’s Husband] and climbing into bed with [Victim]. Prosecutors alleged Hays raped [Victim] for more than three hours on Sept. 29, 2009. Hays maintains his innocence, but has not said what happened that night.
. . .
Meanwhile, both [Victim and Victim’s Husband] died before the case went to trial. [Victim] suffered from fibromyalgia, a chronic muscle and connective tissue disorder that causes sufferers intense pain, sleep disturbance and other symptoms. She died of an accidental pain medication overdose on Feb. 1. [Victim’s Husband] committed suicide three weeks later.

(I’m leaving out their names because she was a sexual assault victim, even though the linked-to article contains their full names. I’m assuming the names have been public for awhile; I just don’t feel comfortable using them, as a rape survivor myself.)

Accidental pain medication overdoses have been in the news a lot lately. Seems I can’t open a news site lately without seeing at least one headline about the rise in accidental overdose cases in U.S. emergency rooms. Now, I need to be clear: I am NOT convinced that the problem is as widespread and critical as the media has reported it to be. It’s pretty much conclusive that most major outlets confuse addiction with dependence, and it’s the least-well-kept secret in this country that the press sensationalizes statistics in order to sell copy (or adspace).

But clearly something’s going on here, and it needs to be talked about honestly.

I’ve never made a secret of how I feel about prescription pain medication. In case you missed it, though, let me reiterate: I’m all for it, when it’s appropriately prescribed and taken.  It’s saved my life, and that’s not hyperbole.

But it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of the facts. Pain medication can kill, when it’s not taken correctly. It can interact with any number of other substances — including benign crap like vitamins and herbal supplements. It can react with alcohol — even a little bit of alcohol. It can be over-taken, as when you forget that you already had that evening dose because the kids were screaming and your husband was ranting about work or whatever.

We tend to think of overdoses as happening to … you know, not to be impolite, but “those other people.” The ones who look/act/live nothing like us.

But as the news article above reminds us painfully: it does, in fact, happen to “us.” All the time? No. Inevitably? Of course not. Way too often for any compassionate person to accept? Oh, yeah.

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