There seems to be a growing movement that wants to ban all opiates, regardless of the harm it would do to chronic pain patients. Since I’ve been a chronic pain patient for the past fifteen years, I feel I’m a bit better qualified than the Daily Show to say whether or not narcotics help me.
Treating pain is difficult. Doctors have no objective way to tell if someone is in pain, or how bad the pain is – no pain-meter. If they had one, it would be far easier to determine who is simply trying to feed an addiction and who is trying to manage debilitating pain. Doctors have to rely on what their patients tell them.
I’ve been a chronic pain patient for almost a third of my life, now. I’m fortunate. My pain can be controlled, mostly, by a pump that is implanted in my abdomen that delivers a narcotic to my spine. For the last fifteen years, that medication has made my life bearable. Without it I’m sure I would be dead by now. Medication delivered by a pump to the spine is 300 times more effective than oral narcotics, and, at least in my case, resistance has grown slowly. If I was still on oral meds, I’d be taking handfuls of tablets and I would be at risk of not waking up some day.
A study done many years ago, with eleven thousand pain patients, established that it’s hard to get addicted if you simply follow your doctor’s instructions. Out of those eleven thousand patients, fewer than ten became addicted.
An addict is looking for a high, which requires taking the drug differently than pain control does. A pain patient wants, more than anything, to stay ahead of the pain, which means keeping a relatively constant dose of pain mediation in the body. An addict wants the high, which means taking a bunch of meds at the same time, in order to get that feeling of euphoria.
If you know anything about addicts, you know that addiction is a mental illness. An addict that can’t get high one way, will simply find another. We need to research the best ways to treat addiction, and use those treatments, instead of demonizing medications. Otherwise, we’ll wind up making pain patients live in an unimaginable hell, while those bent on self-destruction will simply find another way to pursue their goal.
And if we want to help addicts avoid temptation, perhaps we should start with the legal drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Of those, only the peddlers of nicotine have been held responsible and they weren’t penalized because they sold an addictive drug. They got sued because the addictive drug was coupled with carcinogens.
Ironically, we control morphine more closely than we control Vicodin and similar drugs, when they can be more dangerous, because they includes NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The NSAIDs, which are drugs like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, can do serious damage to your liver.
There are a lot of problems with the way we treat pain. We need a lot more research on pain, how to measure it, and how to treat it without the harmful side-effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. But decisions about what drugs should or should not be available, should be made based on all the facts.