A large part of having a disability for millions of Americans is living with chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting longer than 6 months. Chronic doesn’t mean constant. WebMD defines chronic pain very succinctly on their website. For most sufferers of pain, it fluctuates. There are good days and bad days and days that are in between. Many people who’ve suffered injuries have very little relief at all.
The new CDC Guidelines, as well as many inflammatory, dismissive, and downright condescending articles, as well as news broadcasts (article written in response to a report by CNN), discount the many Americans suffering with chronic pain. Many of whom rely on controlled substances to get them to have one good day or enough reduced pain for a few hours of relief. This is not meant to diminish the seriousness of addiction and abuse of drugs. But the ones seeking drugs illegally aren’t always getting prescriptions. The illegally obtained prescription drugs are a result of pharmacies being robbed.
This situation presents a conundrum for pain sufferers. As many Americans are also faced with the choice of finding a way to obtain their meds by any means necessary. This presents a two-fold problem. The first being the support of those that would traffic in illegal substances and setting themselves up for being further denied pain management. The second being the legal ramifications of obtaining substances without a prescription whether they’re legal substances or illegal ones to ease their pain. Not every desperate person is an addict. But these new restrictions, this atmosphere of fear evoked by the DEA in response to opioid addiction is hampering all the interested parties. Doctors are too afraid to treat patients and patients are treated like junkies whether they are or not. Even the most responsible prescription drug patient is made to feel ashamed and unheard. Creating a culture of fear and shame around an epidemic is a sure way to drive it underground and make it into the very thing they are fighting against.
This culture of fear and shame is being further fueled by articles like the one recently posted on Global News Centre’s website. This article is not only shameful but extremely condescending to chronic pain sufferers. They made a comment about a program that CNN aired that addressed the opioid epidemic and had only one chronic pain sufferer. This article, as well as the news broadcast, went on to dismiss and discredit her. The news program made her look like a small voice in a sea of unimportance. And the article took a dig at the fact that apparently she was helped to and from her seat, despite claiming to be active and taking opioid pain meds for many years. Regarding her being assisted to and from her seat: many times if you go to any public place and inform them that you have a disability, they offer you help whether you need it or not. It is probably a matter of legality and covering their own assets, so-to-speak. Furthermore chronic pain fluctuates daily, sometimes even throughout the day. We have no way of knowing how long she was sitting there in the same place. Some chronic pain sufferers have difficulty remaining seated for long periods of time. Especially when it is a certain type of chair. We, and the writer of this article, have no way of knowing the policies of the people who helped her. She may not have chosen the help. We have no way of knowing the circumstances. Television shows often take much longer to film than most people realize. This defaming of a person who is suffering is just further proof of what people with invisible disabilities deal with every day.
People often make judgments about your abilities and credibility based on how you appear once, rather than over time. Anything that is chronic is very inconstant and fluid. There are days when someone who is sick may have a great day and be able to go out and socialize, but to the casual observer she is fine. Those observing on a good day don’t see her on the other days when she’s unable to leave her bed for long periods of time. Because most chronically ill people have to wait until they are better in order to be social at all. One of the main problems here is compassion, empathy, and understanding. This will be a very difficult wall to break as so many people can’t believe in what they don’t see. There needs to be more work and more activism to ensure that this epidemic is properly addressed. No one should live with shame for their suffering or dismissal of their distress.
Many people are also under the erroneous notion that chronic means complaining, exaggerating, or malingering. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most chronic sufferers (not just pain) actually tend to downplay their suffering to avoid putting people off. No one wants to be the downer that nobody wants to talk to. Human beings are social creatures, so for the chronic pain patient one of the hardest things that they deal with is the isolation it causes as friends stop inviting them places and begin to have less and less contact with them. They often feel ostracized by their experience and isolated from those that they care about. Support is the thing that they need the most and the thing which is also the most difficult to find and/or maintain.
Chronic pain sufferers need to be heard and there need to be measures in place to take care of those patients who rely on opioids but are also responsible, compliant patients. What we need are more articles like this one from the New York Times. Those who do not exhibit any drug-seeking behavior don’t deserve to be punished. Drunk drivers kill people every day, but they don’t restrict alcohol and it’s a much more dangerous drug with its availability and ease of purchase. With the restrictions that pain patients have to deal with many of them are forced to stay in bed or be very depressed. More and more chronic pain patients are committing suicide every year because they can’t face one more day of pain. They can’t face one more clinic that treats them like a drug addict. They can’t face one more doctor who refuses to prescribe them medication to make them feel better. Doctors are being forced to go against their oath when they deny patients what they need. They’re doing harm by being negligent. New measures, new strategies, and new guidelines need to be set for the DEA, as well as less restrictions on the doctors. If they’re hampered by law, how are they going to be able to help their patients? Doctors aren’t all to blame, but these new rules and restrictions are damaging to doctors. It’s damaging to patients. As well as damaging to society as a whole.
*Any factual errors contained in this article are the fault of the author and not of the publications referenced. –Layla Rose