Unless you have been sleeping under a rock because house prices are soaring you will probably be aware of the recent opioid crisis in America where shocking statistics showed the true extent of opioid use in the USA, and the detrimental effect this was having on some people’s health. The backlash lead to doctors restricting patient’s access to opioids, particularly for long-term users. Almost immediately a huge debate sprung up between two communities; those who were concerned about the issues caused by long-term opioid use, and those with chronic pain who were now struggling to access painkillers, making day-to-day life significantly harder.
For pain relief I rely on medication traditionally prescribed as anti-depressants with two such tablets working together to boost the effects each other. On the worst days I have to rely on paracetamol and aspirin, despite aspirin aggravating the symptoms of my asthma, to control my pain levels. I was initially prescribed codeine for these occasions but as it transpires I am intolerant to codeine. This means that some days I just have to accept that the pain isn’t going to subside, which is a truly unpleasant realisation, but fortunately is not too regular an occurrence to cause me any great concern.
The one and only occasion on which I have used morphine, the mother of all opioids, was when I had a gall stone wedged in duct between the pancreas and small intestine blocking the passage so that no matter how hard my muscles contracted nothing was passing through. If this sounds like it might be painful I can assure you it was agony, especially having only had surgery the week before leaving the scar tissue fresh and tender, and it took a hefty dose of intravenous morphine to get the pain back under control. What I realised after taking the morphine was just how effective it was; my chronic pain which had been lurking in the background for several years was gone. Completely.
Suddenly I came to realise just how much of a relief it was for the pain to totally stop, even for a short time (everything they say about sudden realisations while high is true). Paracetamol might have dulled the incessant aching to a background inconvenience but the pain was still there. With the morphine, my head didn’t throb for the first time in years. My muscles weren’t permanently telling me they wanted to rest even as I was resting. It was quite the come-down.
If it is frustrating for me not to have access to the most effective painkillers for my condition out there, what it must be like for those who haven’t even got access to the less effective alternatives that I use is unthinkable. The chronic pain community are struggling to get access to any pain relief at all on a long-term basis, meaning they’re left to cope with horrendous conditions without any help. The side-effects and risks associated with long-term opioid use are well known and understood by the chronic pain community but given that they already have to live with chronic pain, the risk of side-effects in the future is worth it to be without pain now.
There are risks and America cannot continue on its current opioid usage and not expect to see the effects. However denying people the right to have a life worth living, a life not destroyed by debilitating pain, is equally horrific. Those with chronic pain are not asking for anything unreasonable; they are asking for life.