When The Opioid Crisis Affects Those With Chronic Pain
Written for Aging Well Denver by Anonymous
I am in pain. I have been for more years than I care to count, and the tricky thing about pain is that no one experiences it the same way. Because of this, I recognize that it is difficult to treat and difficult to resolve. Particularly if the pain is chronic, or hard to locate and identify. I, on the other hand, have specific reasons for my pain that are easily identifiable.
You see, I am a paraplegic, and I've been in a wheelchair for 28 years. I broke my back at T-12 and had some rods placed to stabilize it back in 1990. Over the years, I have had to endure other things that took their toll on my body as well. I've had bone infections due to pressure sores that I developed during that initial hospital stay and I had a significant car accident 16 years later that broke nearly every bone from my waist down. My shoulders and elbows are shot from pushing my wheelchair and my tendons feel like they are on fire at times.
I resisted taking anything for this pain for years, not for the sake of heroics or pride but because it wasn't debilitating at that point. But after the last car accident happened 10 years ago, I slowed down. The pain has always been there but for some reason, my ability to ignore it started to go away. The nagging pain made me want to crawl out of my skin. The tightness and shooting pain that I experience in my shoulders and elbows still kept me awake most nights.
I finally turned to the doctors for help and they prescribed me with a small amount of valium to stop the muscle spasms. They also gave me a small dose of oxycodone to help with the pain. I only took this at night as it was intended to help me get to sleep. I was provided what I needed and I never abused it, because it just didn't occur to me to take more than was prescribed. I took the same dose for years, until recently.
Due to the opioid crisis, some doctors have been forced to change how they treat chronic pain. Many have taken a strict withdrawal approach, and my network seems to fall under this ideology. The Veterans Administration, in particular, has set a hard line and now, the overuse of others has directly affected my life.
I personally know of people who have far stronger drugs dispensed to them like candy by other providers but, due to my insurance and my providers, the medication I used to have is no longer available to me. My doctor told me he was going to switch my medication because of the change in policy after suggesting natural pain relief options that won't work for me because of my disability. He prescribed me with a medication that does nothing to ease my pain and simply stopped filling my prescription for the medication that helped with my spasms.
Some people may say "just go get your shoulders operated on to stop the pain." I can't do that. I would be unable to move at all during the recovery time and far deadlier complications arise when I stop moving, such as bedsores, blood clots, and infection.
Simply put, the opioid addiction issue will not be settled by denying it, Carte Blanc. While I no longer have access to the medication that used to ease my pain, I don't believe people such as myself were ever the people they were trying to address. As I already explained, I was not the abuser they were trying to target. My doctor checked me regularly and my provider had strict control over how much was dispensed and when. I suppose I'm just collateral damage. I'm not downplaying the effect opioids have had on our society. People in my own community have been affected by addiction and I see the need for change. The problem comes when sufferers of real, chronic pain are denied support because of the actions of the few.
The government tried to stop the few unscrupulous doctors who created this issue, and I applaud them for that, but many are still out there. They have not changed their practices. They are still dispensing opioids to people who abuse them but patients with true needs, such as myself, are caught in the middle. We are the people suffering while war wages between the government and the few dishonest doctors who overprescribe for the sake of making more money. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know that there is a large group of people, like me, who are left hanging in the balance.