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5 Ways TIME Gets Pain Pills So Wrong

TimeCover

Access to pain pills is not a cause I chose. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “Gee, more people need opioids.”

No, access to pain pills is a cause that chose me. Because I really did wake up one day two and half years ago, and say, “What is wrong with me? Why do I suddenly have insane pain in my ribs?”

It’s a pain that never went away. And for months, the doctors didn’t take me seriously. They gave me prescription-strength Advil, Lidoderm patches, and told me to wear looser bras.

None of that worked.

So, for weeks on end, the pain got worse and worse, while I tried multiple doctors, trying to find someone who could help.

I was in so much pain that I would often lay down on the ground mid-sentence because I didn’t have it in me to keep standing. The pain was just that overwhelming.

And at night, after trying to survive the day, I would lay in bed and plan ways to commit suicide. I wish I was exaggerating.

Finally, I found a pain specialist who put me on hydrocodone. At the time I had no idea that opioids were controversial. I was just happy to finally have found something that gave me relief.

The problem with hydrocodone though is that it comes with these crazy spikes. So you take a pill, it relieves the pain and then it completely wears off within a couple hours — and you to wait six hours for your next dose. It’s a horrible way to live.

I’m also on a time-released morphine that lasts about 8 hours. I take it three times a day — so I am always on an opioid, 24 hours a day. And then, on top of that, I also take hydrocodone as needed.

I pretty much always need it.

The pain still gets bad. But now, because of the pain pills, I have times when I am nearly pain free. Times when I can catch my breath and remember that life is worth living.

Opioids have literally saved my life.

Which is why I’m so upset about TIME magazine’s cover story about the “worst addiction crisis America has ever seen.” 

I realized when I read the article that I am spoiled by my Facebook news feed. I tend to follow chronic pain groups, so most of the information I see is about how chronic pain patients need access to these drugs. As a result, I’ve been lulled into thinking that the chronic pain community is actually making progress on this issue.

Apparently, we aren’t.

And it is articles like this that make it that much harder for pain patients like me to get the relief they need.

Let’s break down what it gets so wrong, with some quotes from the report:

1.    It implies time-released morphine is basically heroin.

“The longer patients stay on the drugs, which are chemically related to heroin and trigger a similar biological response, including euphoria, the higher the chances users will become addicted.”

Aside from the excessive number of commas, there are so many infuriating things about this sentence.

While the drugs can give you a “high” feeling when you first start taking them, I can promise you — after being on morphine all day, every day for over a year — that the “high” is only a short-term side effect.

Also, comparing the drugs I take to heroin is like saying that both TIME and US Weekly are similar because they both require reading. Yes, that’s true. But that’s about all they have in common.

2. The article focuses on how much the drug companies are supposedly making on these meds.

“The total annual sales for opioids in the U.S. has grown over 20 years to more than $8 billion.”

While there have been some new meds on the market, like Zohydro, the pills that I take and the pills most of the people I know take, are generic. Morphine isn’t exactly a brand name.

Giving people relief from horrific, daily pain is not part of some drug company conspiracy. It’s called compassion.

3. It devalues how horrible pain can be.

“The standard-setting Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations in 1999 required doctors to measure pain as part of their basic assessment of a patient’s health, which had the effect of elevating pain the same level of importance as objective measurements like temperature and heart rate.”

The author writes that like it’s a bad thing. I’m here to tell you, it’s not. Pain is such a huge part of your health. And managing it is just as important as managing your blood pressure or your insulin level.

Having too much pain will ruin your life and your body just like any other health issue.

Living with chronic pain is like living every day of your life with the same amount of pain you would wake up with after an extensive surgery, or a horrific car accident, or a stabbing.

Anyone in those situations would be given adequate pain relief. And, just because people with chronic pain have that same pain every day, all day, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same relief.

4. It implies that anyone on long-term pain medications is an “addict.”

“With America awash in opioids for the foreseeable future, health care providers and public officials are searching for ways to help addicts get clean.”

I don’t need to “get clean.” I need a cure, but there isn’t one for what I have. The next best thing is daily pain relief. Going off all my meds would be catastrophic for me, not because I’m addicted, but because I would end up stuck on the couch for the rest of my life in too much pain to shower.

Also, we need to take a second to talk about the word “addicted.” It is very different from what’s actually happening for most people, which is “dependence.”

Dependence is what happens when you take lots of different types of drugs long-term. Your body becomes dependent, so going off them cold turkey would be hell. However, if you taper off it, you’re good. Just like anti-depressants. And nobody ever says people are “addicted to anti-depressants.”

Addiction is when you start to crave that high feeling you get the first few times you take the drug, so you start taking higher and higher doses seeking it out. Sort of like how all of us are dependent on food, while a select few are addicted.

5. The authors don’t mention any alternatives.

For those enduring chronic pain, the real-life alternative to not having adequate pain pills is suicide.

Articles like this just make it that much harder for people with chronic pain to get the medications they need. If you want to see the suicide rate jump, just take away the medications that so many people rely on to do even simple things, like make dinner or do a load of laundry.

Look, I’m not saying everyone with a cold should get a prescription for morphine. I’m just saying that there are millions of people out there who need these drugs. And more regulation just gets in the way of decisions that doctors and patients should make together to help those who are suffering cope with their pain. The government should never be in anyone’s doctor’s appointment.

At the end of the day, I guess I just wish that TIME had talked to even one chronic pain patient for the article. There are millions of us out here, responsibly using opioids long-term, and we would have loved to chat with TIME.

If only they had asked.

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How chronic pain ruins you financially

I was already living paycheck to paycheck before I got sick. I mean, rent in the Chicago suburbs doesn’t pay itself and journalism isn’t the lucrative job I think it used to be back when Clark Kent got into the business.

But then, I woke up one day with horrible pain in my ribs and my bank account somehow got even worse. Is there a number below zero? Because that’s about where I like to keep my balance.

I’m not telling you this in an attempt to solicit any type of personal donations. I just want the world to know what those dealing with chronic pain are actually dealing with financially. I want to give a voice to all of those people out there who are too sick to take a shower and, as a result, are too broke to upgrade their tacos to supreme.

I can still remember the first time I went to pick up a name-brand prescription at the local Walgreens, and being completely horrified by the fact that they wanted a freaking $50 co-pay. That’s a tank of gas. Or a cell phone bill. Or like three dresses at Kohl’s during a good sale.

Now, I’d kill to get all my drugs for $50.

I’m an American. I have insurance. I have a job. You wouldn’t think getting some random pain in my ribs would completely ruin me financially.

It has.

There are the co-pays for the doctor visits and the drugs; the money I owe before my deductible each year for the MRIs and the ER visits; and the vain attempt to find cures from snake oil salesmen offering alternative medicine that’s never covered by medical insurance.

I have so many medical bills that I can’t even keep track of how much I owe which doctor anymore.  Let’s just say, it’s “a lot.”

But it’s not just the medical bills that have to me too broke to buy fresh fruit on the regular.

It’s kind of hard to keep a job, when you literally don’t know from day to day if you’re going to be able to get out bed.

I’ve been very lucky in that my full-time job has been extremely accommodating, allowing me to mostly work from home and even take breaks during the day as needed. I know that if I had any other job, I would have had to file for disability a while ago.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t lost anything though. Back when I was healthy, I was able to maintain a side job as a part-time youth leader. I had to walk away from that when it became obvious that I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to get out of bed and make it to church most Sunday mornings. And when I resigned, I also gave up $10,000 a year.

Now, I’m barely making enough to make ends meet.

I spent the entire second week of June with $0.00 in my bank account.

And I can’t exactly go looking for a new job to make up for that $10,000 pay cut. I mean, where else am I going to work that allows me to make my own hours and write feature stories in my pajamas on the couch?

So, I’m stuck. I’m stuck in job I can barely hold onto that only pays me barely enough to eat on a daily basis.

When you’re well, it seems like you’re constantly hearing about fundraisers for sick people. Someone, somewhere always seems to be walking for cancer, or hosting a fancy ball for MS, or doing an ice bucket challenge for ALS.

But there are no fundraisers for people like me. Nobody does a 5K for chronic pain — maybe because most people with chronic pain are too sick to walk 3.1 miles.

I think there’s also still a lot of stigma associated with chronic pain. A sort of, “Well if you would just give up gluten and go to a chiropractor, you’d get better, so it’s kind of your fault.”

I get it, I mean watching someone lay on the couch all day with an illness nobody can see doesn’t exactly scream, “I’m super sick.” It’s easy for people to assume you’re just too lazy to get better. After all, if it’s just a matter of will power, then they don’t have to worry about the same fate becoming them.

And, I’ve noticed that people never like to use the word “sick” to describe chronic pain. They much prefer, “I’m in pain,” to “I’m sick.” It’s a way of separating those suffering with daily pain from the “truly sick.”

The thing is, having chronic pain does make you sick. It’s an all-encompassing chronic illness just like any other all-encompassing chronic illness. And it steals little pieces of your life in exactly the same way.

Sometimes, when I’m in really bad pain, when I’m literally so sick that I can’t even get to the bathroom, I think about a world where I would be forced to apply for disability. But then, I’d be even more broke than I am now.

I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but Social Security isn’t exactly paying people with bags of gold. Everyone I know who’s living on disability payments is barely living. It’s not exactly the kind of life I thought I’d end up with back when I got my freaking master’s in journalism.

But I guess that’s the thing about chronic pain. It completely destroys everything about your life that you thought you’d end up with. It wipes out all your hopes and dreams, and makes you start all over with nothing. And then, it sends you a hurricane just to make sure you got the message.

Being broke all the time only makes it that much worse.

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Chronic Pain: Nobody Tells You How Hard It Is

Some days, I feel like I can finally lift my head above water. Like I can finally take a breath. Or better yet, a couple of deep breaths. 

I feel like maybe I finally have this whole chronically sick thing figured out. And, finally, after being in pain for more than two years, I can focus on living the life I want to live. Like just maybe, this whole chronic pain thing isn’t going to win after all.  

And then other days, like today, I wish I was dead.  

Days when I wake up with an insane amount of pain in my ribs, and a migraine and I have to work because I’m genuinely afraid I’ll lose my job if I call in sick one more time. 

Days when I hate my body so much, because it’s like a jail keeping me prisoner and holding me back from the life I once thought I was born to live.  And days when I want to push myself, because that’s what I do, I push things, to the limits, and that’s how I have always lived my life.

But then I do that, I push myself, and I do something crazy like go for a walk, or stay up late, or take a shower two days in a row, and then I literally end up spending the next week on the couch in too much pain to function. 

Days when all I want to want in the whole world is to lose weight, but instead, because of my stupid body, the only thing I’m allowed to want is relief from the pain. So rather than putting all my resources into losing some of the 50 pounds I’ve gained since getting sick, I have to use all my resources to just sit on the couch and check my email. 

I want so bad to worry about regular things, like whether or not my boyfriend is ever going to propose, or whether or not I’ll get that promotion. I want to think about going for a long walk, and just worry about the weather. 

But my body won’t let me. Instead, I have to worry about whether my boyfriend will, or should, stick it out with someone who is so radically different than the healthy, much thinner girl he first met almost 5 years ago. I have to worry about just keeping my job. I have to worry about whether my body has had enough time to recuperate from the walk I took three days ago to allow me to blow dry my hair. 

Being sick every day of your life is so much worse than anyone ever tells you. It’s so much harder than anyone can ever explain. 

That’s the thing, really. There’s no “talk” with the doctor when you have chronic pain. A medical professional doesn’t pull you into his office, hand you a box of tissues and say, “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you have chronic pain.” That conversation never happens.  

Instead, they scan your test results, say something about sending you to a pain specialist and then they go on with their life, while you’re left holding the pieces. Or worse, they say, “At least you don’t have cancer.”

Everything is suddenly different, but nobody has the decency to tell you that. They just ship you off to another doctor and hand you some opioids. 

But your life has been changed forever.

There’s the constant, daily battle with the pain, and the insane side effects from the drugs you use as weapons. There’s the loneliness and the feeling of failure that comes from being stuck on the couch in pajamas all day, every day, even on Easter. There’s the assault on your faith, and the outright attack on your ability to hope. And there’s the way your brain goes crazy just trying to understand how you’ll ever endure like this forever. 

There are other days though. And on those days, for a second, you almost feel like you’ve got a handle on the situation, like you’ve got your head above water. 

Today just wasn’t one of those days. 

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