Hello! My name is Crystal Lindell and I’m on opioids — specifically, morphine and hydrocodone.
I need these medications on a daily basis to help manage my chronic pain. And by “chronic pain” I mean daily pain so horrible that I literally want to kill myself. Daily pain that feels like someone literally took a razor blade to my rib bone, whacked me with a golf club and then dropped a car on my chest.
The morphine is time-released, so I take that every eight hours, every day, all day. But it isn’t always enough to control my chronic pain, so sometimes I also have to take hydrocodone pills to help ease something called “breakthrough” pain.
Recently, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency decided that the hydrocodone I take should be reclassified to a Schedule II drug. That means I can’t get a prescription for the drug from a nurse, or a nurse practitioner. I can only get it from a doctor. It also means that I have to have an actual hand-written prescription to give to the pharmacy — no more calling or faxing it in from the doctor.
A lot of people in chronic pain, myself included, are really upset about this. But, if you’re not enduring agonizing pain on a daily basis, I can understand why you might not get what all the fuss is about.
So, below are some common questions those who don’t have chronic pain usually ask about hydrocodone, as well as some answers. Hopefully this helps to clear some things up about the whole situation.
Why are you so upset about this?
I’m upset for few reasons. Personally, this means I now have to get my monthly hydrocodone prescription in the mail, which throws a bunch of new factors into the situation. (More on that later).
Also, those who live in rural areas and only have access to a nurse practitionerwill no longer be able to get prescription for the drug, regardless of how much they may need it.
But more generally, it’s also one more way that hydrocodone, and opioids in general, are being demonized by our society. For me, hydrocodone has been a life saver in the purest senses of the word.
It has helped me to keep my job, take regular showers, and even travel. Without it, I can assure you that I would be spending every day of my life in bed or on the couch. I see the medication as a miracle drug.
But as the DEA continues its fight against opioids in all forms, it not only gives the drug a bad name, it also gives its users a bad name — whether they’re a legitimate user like me, who only takes the recommended dose each day, or a drug addict or dealer who sells the pills for profit.
It also opens up the door for others to treat hydrocodone users as they would an addict or a dealer. Pharmacists already give opioid users the third-degree when they try to fill a prescription for morphine or other similar drugs. And some will even outright refuse to fill it, regardless of how much pain the patient is in.
The new regulations also will likely make doctors that much more gun shy about prescribing hydrocodone, which for many patients is the only path to any sort of relief. Those in pain shouldn’t be forced to endure a fight with the medical community to get the relief they need — the daily battle they’re having with their body is tiring enough.
If you take hydrocodone every day, aren’t you an addict?
No, I’m not. There’s a big difference between “addiction” and “dependence.” My body does have a dependence on the drug after being on it so long, and yes, that would make it hard to go off of it cold turkey.
However, if I was addicted, I would take it for the “high” it can give rather than the pain relief, and thus I’d likely take larger and larger doses each day, and run out sooner and sooner each month.
I personally stick to my recommended dose not only because I’m not “addicted,” but also because I need the pills on a daily basis to help me function. If I took the whole bottle on the first day, I’d spend the rest of the month sinking into the couch in pain and despair.
If you’re on an opioid like hydrocodone, shouldn’t you be seeing your doctor every month anyway? Can’t you just get the prescription then?
Actually, no, I don’t need to see my doctor every month. I have an ongoing chronic illness that has no foreseeable end.
I also have an ongoing relationship with my doctor. We often communicate via email and phone calls between visits, but unless there are any major changes in my health status, I don’t need to see him every 30 days.
Also, my condition is so rare that I have to be treated at a university hospital. However, I live in a small town, so the closest one is about two hours away. Driving such a long distance every 30 days wouldn’t just be impractical — it would be torture for my body.
And of course, there are many, many other patients out there in similar situations who are enduring long-term pain. Just like me, they need a monthly hydrocodone prescription, but they don’t need to see their doctor every single month.
Well is it really that big of a deal to have the prescription mailed to your house?
Yes, it is, for a few reasons. One, the mail doesn’t always get here when it should, meaning I could go into opioid withdrawal if there was a delay.
Two, my morphine prescription also has to be mailed to my house each month. In the past, if there were any delays caused by the mail and my morphine prescription didn’t get here on time, my doctor was able to phone in a hydrocodone prescription so I wouldn’t go into withdrawal. Now, I will no longer have that option.
If you have never gone through cold-turkey opioid withdrawal, the best way I can explain is this: It’s feels like you are literally having years of your life sucked out of the very bones of your body.
Can’t you just take a different medication? Why do you have to be on hydrocodone?
I’ve tried a bunch of other medications and none of them are as effective as hydrocodone at relieving the sudden bouts of strong pain I experience throughout the day.
But really, that doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that I’ve discussed it with my doctor, and he and I have agreed that it is the most effective medication with the fewest side effects for my health situation.
Think about it, if you were sick, isn’t that all you’d want to matter?
Aren’t thousands of people dying from opioid overdoses each year? Won’t this new law help with that?
You are right. A lot of people have died from opioid overdoses. Starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number increased to 16,651 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
I do feel genuine compassion for those who have died from drug overdoses as well as their families. I have had many personal experiences with loved ones dealing with drug addiction and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
But, I also feel genuine compassion for the 100 million Americans living each day with chronic pain.
Right now, the pendulum has swung really far in one direction, and the needs of those suffering with chronic, as well as short-term, pain are being ignored at the expense of drug addicts.
Also, it should be noted that suicide rates among those with chronic pain are significantly higher than the general population.
In fact, “White men, white women, and white worker compensation men with chronic pain in the age range of 35-64 years are twice, three, and three times as likely, respectively, as their counterparts in the general population to die by suicide,” according to a study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
That’s a pretty dramatic difference. But I can tell you from personal experience that the right medication can go a long way in giving someone the will to survive.
If pain patients really fell this way, why didn’t they voice their side of the story to the DEA?
Aside from the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to take on the DEA when you’re healthy, much less when you’re enduring chronic pain, it’s also been hard to get them to understand why anyone would want more access to a drug instead of less.
The anti-opioid community has done a great job getting their message out into the world — but just because they’re the loudest, doesn’t mean they’re right. Those of us suffering from daily, treacherous chronic pain may be quieter (we are dealing with daily pain after all), but we have a point to make too.
We just believe that if there are legal medications out there that can make a huge difference in our quality of life, that we should have access to them. And that access should only be dependent on a conversation with our doctor or nurse practitioner. No more, no less.