Chronic pain sufferers rely on many opioid medications just to make it through the day on a slightly pleasant note. More often than not, their pain is curbed and yet still present. Now, with the US facing an epidemic of overdoses on opioid medicines and heroin, chronic pain sufferers are in a difficult position when it comes to their concerns and what to do about the situation.
Those with chronic pain often find themselves in a catch-22 with their medications. They don’t want to rely on them for the relief it brings, yet they must in order to function. Because of the stigma behind opioid use, they are often quiet with friends and family about having to take them and how often they are taking them. All too often, they don’t want to be seen as a drug addict in the eyes of their loved ones. This is even more true for people who have seen opioid abuse in their families.
Additionally, patients with chronic pain often worry whether they are becoming addicted to the medications they rely on. They deal with side effects like gastrointestinal issues and brain fog. Both effects just so happen to be withdrawal effects from opioid abuse. If they have a doctor who isn’t extensively familiar with pain management, they often feel like they can’t have an honest conversation about what they are feeling and doing. They worry about being cut off or chastised, either an internalized worry or a legitimate one if it’s happened before.
Most doctors understand that the line of addiction is based on need and want. If you need it because you can’t function, you are not addicted. But if you want it, you are. As many past addicts can tell you, it’s very easy to tell yourself you need something when you really want it. And many patients dealing with pain management are fully aware of that.
Now throw in the concerns of restrictions obtaining medicines. In many states, if you go to various doctors for your prescriptions, it can be considered “doctor shopping,” and you will be faced with jail time. Most chronic pain sufferers don’t engage in this sort of thing, but there is a point in which one wonders what happens if they need to change doctors, especially if an existing physician is not taking their concerns seriously. What happens if another doctor prescribes another medication, such as a gynecologist, after your main physician does? There is this never-ending worry that someone may appear to be “shopping” and then the world will see them as drug addicts.
There needs to be better education on what is addiction and what is not, so that people are not shamed for keeping themselves alive. We need more compassion in the doctors’ and pharmacists‘ offices so that patients can voice concerns without being chastised. We need to remove the stigma around the drugs and focus more on the behavior.