The Chronic Pain/Prescription Drug Bad News Tsunami

Picture of Large Ocean Wave Breaking Near Shore

There’s a retrenchment going on in the war on chronic Pain (CP). I’ve noticed it with some dismay over the last several months or so, and this week it finally hit me: folks, we’ve got a full-blown insurgency on our hands. Or counter-insurgency. Whichever? I guess it depends on your perspective, as does so much these days. Are we — the ones calling for more assertive treatment of CP, including better access to pain medications — the insurgents? (Personally, I’ve always been fond of “partisans.” Or “Resistance.” I look good in a beret.)

Well, whichever, indeed, because labels don’t mean a damn thing when we’re getting hit by the mass media tsunami. And how could you have missed it, really? Don’t you know? Prescription pain drugs are evil!

Sigh.

Am I overreacting? Consider the items that popped across my Google alerts just this past week:

  • Pain Medicine News: Study: PCPs Often Underestimate Opioid Abuse Risk — free log-in required, and it’s worth it, honestly. (I’m kind of in awe of this one. Despite numerous studies and statistics to the contrary, we’re going to conclude that MOST — that is, a majority! — of CP patients are at moderate risk of addiction to opioids if prescribed them. Uh-huh.)
  • News & Observer: (NC) Sheriffs want lists of patients using painkillers (Oh, yes. That’s a brilliant idea. Yep, no need to worry about local government overreaching or privacy implications with this plan. At all. And like the study in the item above, it comes from my home state of North Carolina. Whiskey-tango-foxtrot, Tarheels?)
  • London Free Press: Police-doctor crackdown eyed in fight against Oxycontin scourge (Great. Now it’s a “scourge.” Hyperbole much, LFP?)
  • And, drumroll please — my favorite, from something called “the Salem News” (Oregon/Pacific NW): “Pain classified as a disease? Please, give us a break.” A lovely little op-ed full of sunshine and roses for the CP’d population from a self-described “Activist for Victims of OxyContin” named Marianne Skolek (inappropriate capitalization is hers, not mine). She’s also a nurse and a paralegal. (Not sure how that works.)

It’s enough to make a sane CP blogger/activist (note the lack of capitalization, Marianne?) get a little depressed. Excuse me – a little more depressed, since everyone knows we’re already, all of us, bawling buckets of messiness, right?

LORD. I’ve been rolling my eyes all week, so hard that I’ve got a perpetual headache. And – what’s this, Marianne? A CP patient experiencing pain who doesn’t run to the nearest pharmacological stewpot?  Yeah, that’s right. Guess what. I’m not alone. Guess what else? It’s MOST of us who don’t overmedicate.

Except people like Marianne and the sensationalist authors of the above pieces and the scowling big-daddy sheriffs of North Carolina don’t want to see that. They want to see the scourge, the tsunami. Sure, they’ll wrap it all up in soft, caring words but underneath it all is the sense of disdain and superiority over anyone weak enough to want to take a pill to alleviate their CP.

And at the heart of that, ladies and gentlemen, is the blessing of never having had to deal with it yourself. Once you cross over into this great land of All Pain, All the Time? You are changed. Perpetually and inexorably and profoundly changed.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Not even Marianne or the sheriffs. Now, it seems as though Marianne had a daughter who died from an Oxycontin overdose. That’s tragic, and incredibly sad. It should not have happened.

Oxycontin is a drug. It’s a potent one, to be sure, but it’s not the devil. Nor are the people who make it, nor are the people who take it.

You want a devil? Look around at the them vs us world you’ve created, every time you urge the public to believe that prescription pain medication will absolutely, definitively kill them, no doubt.

Look long and hard at the prosecutions of good and caring doctors who – horrors! – use the medications as they’re supposed to be used: to relieve their patients’ pain.

Hell, just look at the criminalization of drug use — not dealing, mind you but merely use! We’re going to put people whose only crime was using a drug in jail. No, that makes no sense to me. You know who belongs in jail? Murderers. Rapists. Thieves. Politicians who steal or take kickbacks. Dealers. You know who doesn’t? Drug users or abusers. That? Is a sickness. Want to know how I know? Because a lot of really smart people got together and SAID SO.

Yeah, that’s what our overcrowded prisons need: throw a bunch of mentally ill people in GenPop because they’re mentally ill.

But. All right. The people have apparently spoken. (Though I’m not giving up on that yet.) Let’s just put that aside for a bit. What’s going on here, in this tidal wave of Crisis! Prescription Medication Abuse (can’t you just see the blazing CNN graphic and hear the specially-composed Intro of Doom now?), is something I’d thought reasonable people had put to bed awhile back:

We are not required to live our lives in pain. We’re just not.

But if this scare-mongering continues, then – well, as much as I hate the role of Cassandra, mark my words, folks: We will none of us have access to the prescriptions that can save our lives.

So, it’s Pain Awareness Month, you may have heard. Isn’t it time we all spoke up? Shouldn’t there be someone saying this stuff in a more public forum? I wrote to a contact at APF to share that Marianne op-ed this week. The response I got indicated that they just don’t even respond to her anymore. I can’t say I blame them. She’s obviously a little self-important and if the best platform she can manage is the “Salem News” website, then – well, whatever.

But shouldn’t the din of voices clamoring about “Pharmageddon” and “sheeple being led astray” (Oh, God, can I just make a new rule right now? No more made up words. And if you do make up a word, it has to at least be clever. “Pharmageddon” and “sheeple”? Do not qualify) — shouldn’t there be at least an equivalent counter-chorus? Somewhere?

It’s enough to give a CP girl a headache.

And note: I’m not even reaching for the Tylenol(tm).

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