Stop blaming the opioid epidemic on the victims of chronic pain

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Sophia Tatton

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Over the last several years, the opioid crisis has escalated rapidly and captivated a significant corner of the media. This epidemic began with the over-prescription of opioid drugs, specifically to treat chronic pain, a fact that is constantly pointed out in the recent torrent of negative articles on the subject. In an attempt to correct this issue, the Center for Disease Control issued guidelines in May of 2016 for the prescription of opioid medication, suggesting alternative options as the first step for treating chronic pain conditions. These actions have been only recently implemented, meaning the overall impact is not conclusively known. However, these actions have created an intense stigma surrounding those who require opioids to function daily. 

Despite recent guidelines, according to the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, studies recently conducted have shown that patients taking opioids to treat severe chronic pain are the least likely to abuse or become addicted to said medications. People who legitimately require opioids to function on a daily basis are suddenly being denied their medication. The media is still filled with contemptuous articles blaming the chronic pain community. It is both irresponsible and neglectful that those aware of the resulting suffering are largely limited to the chronic pain community. 

Chronic pain is an already overlooked issue, leaving people to suffer from debilitating pain in private, for often when symptoms are shown the victims of these diseases are commonly accused of faking or being attention seekers. This is an example of yet another overlooked form of prejudice, ableism, in which others discriminate against those who aren’t able-bodied. Opioids allow people already suffering to function, yet with the rising stigma, those in need are being denied that right. After years filled with stories depicting the horrific suffering and cries for help from people with chronic pain, the only ones gaining media attention paint the community as the culprits for an epidemic that victimizes them. By definition, the abuse fostered by these regulations is ableism and those blaming the chronic pain community are guilty of it.

People who already deal with the unimaginable struggles of severe pain daily have been accused of being drug seekers or even denied their medication. A particularly horrifying story was one of a patient of Dr. Barbara McAneny, MD, suffering from prostate cancer who was prescribed opioids to treat his resulting chronic pain. Yet when he went to refill his prescription he was ridiculed by the pharmacist and accused of being a drug seeker. Ashamed and embarrassed, the man went home and struggled to manage his pain without medication for three days, before finally attempting to commit suicide. 

September was Chronic Pain Awareness Month, a time that should have been spent spreading awareness about an issue that the CDC estimated around 50 million Americans suffer from. Instead, a community that is already under constant scrutiny and victim to prejudice was consistently blamed for an epidemic that is not their fault and still must suffer the consequences. •