Every single day of her life, my niece Chrissy is in pain because of a chronic and debilitating condition in her back.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, she tries to manage her pain while seeking a semblance of a life. Often, she is reduced to tears and desperation by the experience.
She, along with tens of millions of other Americans dealing with never-ending and often crippling pain, deserve a seat at the table where discussions and final decisions which adversely affect their quality of life — and literal lives — are being made with regard to the opioid crisis in the United States.
Ironically, if my niece were offered a seat at that table, she would not be able to sit for but a few minutes before the pain went from constant to intolerable. Sitting for more than a few minutes at a time is a normal human function the pain has stolen from her.
For the rest of her life, Chrissy will need access to critically important pain medication. That said, as she and millions of other Americans in incapacitating pain know that access is already being taken away from them.
In our zeal to crack down on abuse of these powerful drugs, we have made it far harder for those who need them to live decent lives to obtain them.
Are there serious concerns with regard to opioids in our nation and their potential overuse? Absolutely. Are prescription opioids turned into street drugs? Of course. Do people who start out taking opioids for perfectly good medical reasons wind up hooked and desperate, and hunting for heroin that might be laced with fentanyl? That certainly happens.
But as we crack down, is there a middle ground which can be found which will afford my niece and millions of other Americans the ability to treat their pain, regain their lives, and not be seen as suspect or even criminal by some? Absolutely.
My niece, as well as a very good friend of mine, have spoken openly about being stigmatized as addicts simply for trying to alleviate their pain. Even when they are able to get their pain medication, they are being informed that their dosage is being cut by half or more per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s an overreaction which is putting upwards of one-third of the 20 million Americans in chronic pain at great risk.
“Is the government trying to force us to the streets for help?” my niece asks in growing hopelessness.
Why aren’t more doctors talking or even screaming about this issue? They know many, many patients like my niece have legitimate and lifelong pain management issues. They are neither addicts nor criminals.
Just as these doctors know that crippling pain with no remedy cause uncounted patients to contemplate the worst, or carry it out to finally be in peace.
Are some of these doctors being cowed into silence because they fear being portrayed as facilitators or even “pushers” by those trying to capitalize on the crisis?
These doctors must know there is a correct balance between reducing the rate of new opioid addiction while still providing the often life-saving pain medication needed by their patients.
The baby is being thrown out with the bath water. Our government, our doctors, our politicians and the media that covers the issue has to be better than this.