Recently on Facebook I posted some thoughts on the opioid crisis. It got a lot of reaction. The opioid crisis of which I speak is not the one that’s in the news every day. This one rarely gets any news coverage.
The one with which you are familiar includes criminals, the addiction and death of our children and greedy physicians who dole out narcotics like Halloween candy.
And then … there’s the other one, it involves the thousands if not millions of victims of chronic pain who cannot get relief. That second crisis is just as tragic as the first and is generated to a great degree by fear, distrust, ignorance and a total lack of compassion. Every day there are many, many thousands of Americans who suffer unbearable pain and cannot get relief even though it is available. The politicians and instigators who are responsible for this tragedy are so blinded by their obsession with law and order issues they cannot see the pain and suffering they create in order to satisfy their desire to toss someone in the slammer.
These overly protective know-it-all, know-nothings see a rash of raids where so-called “pill mills” are shut down and physicians and others are rounded up as an epidemic about to sweep away the foundations of our society. In a wild, irrational state of panic they spread ignorance and lies that would have everyone believe that millions are getting painkillers they don’t need from crooked physicians and then selling them on the streets or overdosing.
I am not denying there is a problem. I am complaining that it is being approached in a manner that takes no prisoners and treats everyone with suspicion and disrespect. When an ill-conceived policy is enforced with tactics of intimidation and outright threats, then the policymakers become suspect.
If you read the testimony before congress and in other hearings along with news reports it is easy to see how the unbalanced approach to the opioid epidemic is also causing harm. The doomsayers are warning us all that our children will soon become addicts and likely will die because of the irresponsible physicians who write opioid prescriptions for anyone who asks. Their solution? Paint everyone with the same brush. Make it more difficult to get a pain killer prescription than a seat next to the winning coach at the Chapionship game of the final four.
That’s not to say there isn’t some truth to their crisis claims, but to attempt to shut down narcotics prescriptions all over America is an overreaction that is already generating horrific consequences. This reaction is not dissimilar to the often heard claim that most welfare recipients are cheats and therefore we have to cut welfare programs to the core and beyond.
What is ignored in this crackdown on opioids is that there are thousands and thousands of people who suffer with chronic pain. I’m one of them, my brother is another and I know many more as well. This overreaction to a problem is causing suffering beyond belief. If you’ve never experienced the kind of pain that has you on your knees, crying and begging for relief, then you have no business judging those who are in that situation. If you’ve never had or seen pain so bad, you pray for a quick death then you have no right to suggest policy. If everything you know about drug abuse comes from talk shows and the internet, you have no right to attempt to interfere in the lives of those who live with it every day.
This nationwide irrationality has caused the politicians to pressure the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to threaten physicians with overwhelming amounts of paperwork, loss of license and even jail time if they are found to violate or even misinterpret a rule or law. The result is that many physicians just plain refuse to write narcotics prescriptions. There are major healthcare organizations that have adopted the same policy. Most cruel, though, is the action taken by many reputable pain clinics to offer narcotic-free pain relief. Nice claim, but Impossible. No I’m not a doctor but I have intense pain and I know what provides relief and what doesn’t.
Physicians are so afraid of losing their licenses they are refusing to do what they are trained to do — alleviate suffering. They are also in violation of the “First, do no harm,” mandate. It is time that the AMA and other physician’s organizations along with individuals raise their voices in loud and continuing objection to this insanity. Yes, we need rules, yes we need consumer protection laws but no, we don’t need politicians forcing broad rulings and passing overly broad laws that result in increased suffering, like the kind I described.
I have tried every technique for killing pain known to medical science. None of them worked. Only drugs like Oxycontin, Dilaudid and others give me relief and sometimes they aren’t totally effective. No one is more sensitive to the dangers of narcotics than those who are recovering from dependency on them. Often that dependency is not the patient’s fault but it’s all that’s available to help them. I am a recovering alcoholic. Addiction medicine suggests that if you are addicted to one drug like alcohol, then you are subject to becoming addicted to painkillers as well. I know that to be true and I usually take less of my drug than is prescribed. Fortunately I found a real pain clinic, with board certified pain specialists who have been willing to treat me. I pray from month to month, they will be allowed to continue to practice.
All I’m asking is that common sense and compassion play some part in the national discussion on the prescribing of narcotics and in the enforcement of the laws that govern those who write the prescriptions. When you are stricken with cancer, osteoarthritis (my ailment) and so many other conditions that cause unbearable pain you deserve to be able to get some relief. Doctors deserve to be able to practice medicine. Sure they should be arrested if they break the law, but for the government to flood them with paperwork, warnings and other sorts of intimidating tactics is unforgivable.
We don’t live in a black and white world. There are many shades of gray. This paranoia about narcotics is the same as the ignorance that suggests that anyone who takes narcotics will be addicted, or any physician who prescribes them is a greedy criminal. It is the same as believing all welfare recipients are cheating the system and immigrants are inherently dangerous. This incredibly narrow minded approach to any problem is the result of a nation that no longer honors education, refuses to read, gets its information from talk shows and rarely thinks beyond the latest talk show or political one-liner. We have become a nation that believes in junk science, junk history, junk education, junk leaders and junk wisdom. You might be happy with that simple approach to life until you find yourself in need of food, heaalthcare, or compassion. I hope that real wisdom strikes our nation before any of the true-believers in that black and white world develop a condition that causes them unbearable physical pain for which no one will provide relief.
When we expect to gain knowledge in the same way a dispenser pops out Pez candy we diminish our history, our potential and everything for which our founders stood. A mood of selfishness and unreasonable approaches to law and order has grown deep roots in America. Only when we have restored our moral and ethical compass will we stand a chance of emerging as the thought and compassion leader we like to believe we are.
And from where I sit, that’s the truth.